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It is a simple concept, but Church Bros. LLC believes it has developed the perfect sandwich leaf.

Utilizing old fashioned breeding methods, the company's seed specialist trialed many different Green Leaf lettuce varieties until he found the one with the exact right specification.

"It is the perfect leaf," said Ernst Van Eeghen, director of marketing and product development for the Salinas, CA-based firm. “It is 100 percent useable with no waste because it does not have to trimmed or snapped to fit a burger bun or sandwich bread.”

Consequently, Mr. Eeghen said that a typical package of the firm’s “Teen Green Sandwich Leaves” yields many more leaves per pound than the traditional pack.

“On average we get about 40 to 45 leaves per pound,” he said. “In the summer, it can be as high as 60 leaves, and in the winter it can be as low as 30 leaves, but typically it is 40 to 45 leaves, and at least 80 percent of those leaves are four to six inches long.”

Mr. Van Eeghen explained that a traditional whole leaf pack has much larger leaves yielding about 20-25 single leaves per pound. Each leaf has to be snapped before it can be placed on a bun or a piece of bread because it is just too big. The snapped-off piece is typically waste.

“Though the cost of our pack is slightly higher, on a per-leaf basis it is much, much lower,” he stated.

“Teen Green Sandwich leaves” are a foodservice item packaged in two-pound bags in either a six- or 12-pound carton. The Church Bros. executive called the reception in the marketplace “phenomenal, very, very good.”

He said that broadline foodservice distributors as well as national quick serve restaurants have beat a path to the company’s processing facility to place their orders.

“Since we developed this pack, there have been imitators, and we consider that flattering,” he said. “We wish them luck, but we are pretty good at what we do. We grow this product differently, we harvest it differently and we pack it differently. We have year-round availability, so we are not worried about the competition.”

Mr. Van Eeghen said that it is simply a better product than the traditional whole leaf and that the company is excited to introduce it to more members of the trade during the upcoming Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Orlando, FL.

During the trade show, Church Bros. also will be touting its new arugula variety, which it is marketing as “Wasabi Arugula.” Again, through traditional seed selection methods, this variety was developed that features a flavor profile resembling wasabi.

“It has a peppery horseradish kick,” Mr. Van Eeghen said. “We developed it in the spring of this year and introduced it at the Culinary Institute of America last week (in the middle of September). It was a tremendous hit.”

The Wasabi Arugula is also a foodservice product aimed at both white tablecloth and casual dining establishments.

Church Bros. is also using it in its spring mix program to produce what Mr. Van Eeghen called a “spicier spring mix.”

He added that the development of both of these new products, especially the new arugula variety, fits well with the company’s goal of bringing fresh produce to the forefront.

“We want to help grow the produce category and bring it to the center of the plate,” he said. “To do that, you have to make it exciting — and flavor is the key.”

Toward this end, Mr. Van Eeghen said that Church Bros. has a number of other products in the development stage that could be on its product list very soon.

“We are working on a red mustard arugula that looks promising,” he said. He continued, “The Church brothers (Steve and Tom) have traditionally been innovators in this industry with a long list of firsts. We are continuing that tradition. We hired a seed specialist who has 100 different trials going in the leaf category to find new products. We know the trends and we listen to our customers. The one recurring word we hear is 'flavor.’“