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The value-added and branded product line marketed by Southern Specialties Inc. has garnered solid acceptance by consumers and the trade, according to Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development for the Pompano Beach, FL-based firm. "We have been more involved in private labeling than we ever had in the past and, in spite of the economic conditions, it appears the specialty items are still very relevant," Mr. Eagle said. “That may be because there are more homemakers that are not going out to eat as much, but, still, they want quality and unique products when they entertain. We provide those products. Homemakers can buy the same products they saw at foodservice for several years and prepare them at home.”

Southern Specialties markets its “Southern Selects,” “Paradise Tropicals,” “Fiesta Fresh” and “Today's Gourmet” line of products from distribution facilities in Pompano Beach, McAllen, TX, and Los Angeles.

Southern Specialties handles sno peas, sugar snaps, English peas, French beans, baby vegetables — such as baby squash and baby carrots — radicchio, leeks and other specialty items. The firm also markets limes, papayas and mangos in different times of the year, Mr. Eagle said.

Southern Specialties’ products “supply our retail, foodservice and wholesale customers’ needs.” Those items also go to value-added programs for retailers and club stores and are sold on contract to processing companies.

Guatemala is the primary product source for Southern Specialties. Guatemala’s many microclimates provide produce 12 months a year for Southern Specialties. “The peak season for much of the Guatemalan product starts in November and runs through the winter months, but we are a 12- month-a-year producer.”

He added that, beyond Guatemala, “We import mangos from Ecuador and papayas from Belize.”

Mr. Eagle said, “We have been heavily involved in the Central American deal since our inception 20 years ago. We have quality-assured fields and facilities. We have a broad network of growers. And we identified logistics synergies that allowed us to create a lot of successes. We have freight contracts that are advantageous to us. We have our own freight company — a trucking company that is set up to retrieve our product at the port.”

Mr. Eagle said of Southern Specialties, “Business is pretty good. It could always be better, but we have had a decent year.” Last year ended “on a positive side and we are looking forward to a really good 2011.” Late in 2010 the firm hired Daryl Johnston to fill the newly created position of vice president of sales. Mr. Johnston is involved in the firm’s strategic planning and oversees all facets of the sales part of the organization.

Mr. Johnston worked for 11 years at Dole Fresh Vegetables “and had significant value-added experience in the produce industry with both retail and foodservice companies as customers,” Mr. Eagle said.