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'Chicken Little' in the past, a good season begins for Southern Specialties

by Tad Thompson | December 06, 2010

Well-documented bad 2010 Central American weather is history, Charlie Eagle noted, and he is pleased to look forward to sunnier days shipping Central American products this winter.

Mr. Eagle is the vice president of business development for Southern Specialties Inc. While the firm is based in Pompano Beach, FL, Mr. Eagle works from Atlanta.

He said Nov. 29 that Southern Specialties ships papayas from Belize, "but for us, for the most part, we are talking about Guatemala" when discussing the firm's marketing of Central American commodities.

Although bad weather may be history, Mr. Eagle’s colorful recounting of events is so picturesque as to be noteworthy: “It was not a very pretty year weather-wise. There were floods, hurricanes and tropical storms. It rained cats and dogs, and 'the sky is falling, Chicken Little!’ Going forward, we’re coming into a good time of year. We are getting ready to get into the main thrust of the sno pea and sugar snap business. We expect to have plenty of sno peas for the Chinese New Year (Feb. 3), and we have received a tremendous response on our new packaging. We are following up on responses from [the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit event in Orlando, FL, in October] to our new ‘Southern Selects’ packaging. That includes our six- and eight-ounce microwavable line, as well as our club packs.” Among the packaged, branded commodities are sugar snaps, asparagus and baby peeled carrots.

“We are finding that more and more retailers and clubstores are, even in this economy, focusing on different ways to bring value to their customers. We found that a lot of buyers are enjoying the fact that the ‘Southern Selects’ packaging has a fresh appeal and a premium presentation.”

He added that the foodservice business “appears to be picking up a little bit and, of course as we enter into the holiday season, we have increased demand for our gourmet product line. Prices are still very approachable. Demand is there. We had a very good response to our Thanksgiving pull, and our ‘Southern Selects’ French beans were a hit on a lot of Thanksgiving tables.”

Mr. Eagle said that Southern Specialties introduced the “Southern Selects” brand nine years ago “to feature our highest-quality product on the foodservice level — in the instance of sno peas, sugar snaps, French beans and asparagus — as well as for the retail customers. Our packaging was developed with the intent of creating a premium perception for our product. So we created a value-added line named ‘Southern Selects’ with premium, upscale packaging.”

The “Southern Selects” products are “processed in-house as well as offshore. We have seen steady growth of the line through the years, and one of our focuses is growing that line.”

From the first concept, the vision was to continually expand the “Southern Selects” product line. “We conducted surveys to determine how the product was perceived. We used that information in developing new packaging. We knew we would add different items, grown in Central America, to a microwavable format. As a parallel to the growth of our ‘Southern Selects’ microwavable, value-added line, we have seen requests from our customers to help them with a private-label program. So, the advantage we have as a vertically integrated grower-importer from Central America is our deep knowledge of the area and our 20-year history of working in Central America.”