Merger brings together two Florida tropical specialists
October 19, 2006
Two Homestead, FL-based tropical produce specialists have combined forces to provide greater resources and enhanced service to their growing customer base as Fresh King Inc. has acquired C-Brand Tropicals Inc.
"Our customers now have a wider selection and greater resources to choose from, more convenience and more volume availability," Peter Schnebly, co- owner of Fresh King, said in a press release. "The synergies created through the combination of the two companies have already yielded exciting results."
Fresh King is a grower, packer, shipper and importer of tropical produce and Chinese and gourmet vegetables. Avocados, mangos, lychees, carambolas, French beans, sno peas and sugar snaps are among its selections, and the bulk of its customer base is foodservice-focused.
C-Brand Tropicals had sold for other Homestead-area tropical growers and imported tropical fruits from the Caribbean and South America. Among C- Brand's higher-volume items are avocados, papayas, carambolas and coconuts, with a retail-dominated customer list.
"While tropical fruit has suffered some severe devastation in recent years because of the hurricanes in south Florida, it has not diminished its cultural demand throughout the U.S. - which has been rising by leaps and bounds," said Bill Schaefer, president and partner of C-Brand. "We will continue to supply that demand from whatever source is necessary on a worldwide basis in order to keep meeting our customers' needs."
C-Brand closed its packing facility in Homestead, and most of its staff now works out of Fresh King's headquarters. Peter Leifermann, C-Brand's former managing partner, has assumed the role of president of Fresh King. Mr. Schnebly is now chief executive officer, and Denisse Serge-Schnebly, wife of Mr. Schnebly and co-owner of Fresh King, is chief financial officer. Mr. Schaefer is now Fresh King's vice president of marketing.
The Fresh King packing facility encompasses over 32,000 square feet, which includes 10,700 square feet under refrigeration, 6,000 square feet of loading and unloading areas and four refrigerated loading docks.
"Our goal is to bring the new facilities up to full food-safety certification by the early part of 2007," Mr. Leifermann said.
"We're also building new offices for shipping and receiving, along with a 4,000-square-foot office area for marketing and sales," Mr. Schnebly added. Mr. Schaefer emphasized that "while it is often a common occurrence that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, in our case, with the joining together of these two entities, the whole will actually be greater than the sum of its parts. This union has already begun to show benefits to both our company and our customers."
In addition to Fresh King's tropical fruit line, Mr. Schnebly pointed out that it has expertise in another of today's hottest produce categories: Asian and Indian gourmet vegetables. "They can be key elements in producing a fusion of flavors," he stressed.
Another dimension to the venture intensifies the excitement for the future. Fresh King's owners also operate Schnebly Redlands Winery, situated on the same 20 acres where Fresh King is located.
"With a unique harmony of south Florida's tropical fruit and old-world sophistication, our wines bring a totally new experience to the taste buds," said Mr. Schnebly. "We have crafted the only tropical wines produced in the U.S. that are made with tropical fruits - and absolutely no grapes. We currently offer five varieties: mango, carambola, lychee, guava and passion fruit wines."
"We are excited about the syntheses between the wines and our fresh tropicals, along with all the new options that will be available to our customers," noted Mr. Schaefer. "The opportunities for creative cross- merchandising are vast."
In summation, Mr. Schnebly said of the merger, "I don't think there is any organization in existence in the fresh produce industry today with more opportunity than we have."
Nunes credited for responsible action in recall
October 18, 2006
by Brian Gaylord
SALINAS, CA -- The Nunes Co. President Tom Nunes Jr. announced Tuesday Oct. 10 that the company received results from an independent lab showing that multiple samples of both green leaf lettuce and water were negative for E. coli 0157:H7.
The news follows the company's voluntary recall issued Oct. 8 for certain heads of green leaf lettuce after the company discovered that water used to irrigate the lettuce may have been contaminated with E. coli.
During a conference call Oct. 9 for members of the media, David Acheson of the Food & Drug Administration credited The Nunes Co. for issuing its voluntary recall. Dr. Acheson, chief medical officer of the FDA's Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition, stressed that the event was a recall -- not an E. coli outbreak -- as with the recent outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 in spinach. He also said that the FDA is not aware of any link between the two events.
As of Oct. 11, there had been no reported instances of illness associated with the product. The FDA was awaiting test results on water samples it collected on Monday, Oct. 9. Mr. Nunes said those results should be available "either late Wednesday [Oct. 11] or early Thursday."
The Nunes Co. performed a test Thursday, Oct. 5, for bacterial contamination in a reservoir in one of its Salinas Valley fields, but didn't get the results until late Saturday afternoon. The water tested positive for "generic" E. coli, Mr. Acheson said.
Mr. Nunes told The Produce News Oct. 10 that using a reservoir from which to draw irrigation water is a "very uncommon practice" for The Nunes Co. and that it was a farmer growing lettuce for The Nunes Co. that used the reservoir water.
"It's a learning experience for us," Mr. Nunes said, adding that the company is going to work "very, very hard" to help the Salinas Valley agricultural community restore its recently tarnished image.
"We brought attention to lettuce, but we had to do what we did," Mr. Nunes said.
The recalled lettuce was packaged as "Green Leaf 24 Count, waxed carton," and "Green Leaf 18 Count, cellophane sleeve, returnable carton." The products were distributed in Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Nevada, and sold to retail stores and distributors that may have further sold it to restaurants. The product can be identified as "Foxy" green leaf lettuce sold under lot code 6SL0024 and purchased on or after Oct. 3, 2006 through Oct. 6, 2006. The product was harvested from one farm. The recall does not involve Iceberg or Romaine lettuces.
The Nunes Co. issued a press release Oct. 9 that said that more than 97 percent of the affected cartons had been located and had either been destroyed or had been set aside for destruction. Only about 250 cartons could have reached consumers out of 8,533 cut from the farm in question, which is located in the Salinas Valley. The release said that the company "continues to identify the location of these cartons and expects to reduce this further."
The release reiterated that no other shippers or brands were part of the recall.
Dr. Acheson said that The Nunes Co. informed FDA that it had pumped well water from aquifers as ground water and put it into an impoundment to create a surface water source for irrigation. Asked whether the FDA would be giving that practice closer scrutiny in view of this recall and the outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in spinach, he said that virtually all components from farm to fork are subject to closer scrutiny.
Dr. Acheson said that everyone has a responsibility in food safety, which begins in the field with good agricultural practices by growers and includes processors, distributors, retailers and consumers. Government has an educational role, he said.
In August, FDA and the state of California launched the Lettuce Safety Initiative to minimize the risk of E. coli O157:H7 contamination in leafy greens. The initiative was focused on lettuce but was expanded to include spinach and leafy greens, Dr. Acheson said. The intent also was to create greater awareness by industry of FDA's commitment to food safety and its concern about the safety of lettuce. The FDA's recommendations are based on good agricultural practices, he said.
"The question that's on the table is whether there needs to be a stronger approach," Dr. Acheson said. Good agricultural practices are the key, but in addition to questioning whether they are enough is determining whether farmers are following them, he said.
Dr. Acheson said that while it's unrealistic to expect that E. coli outbreaks -- as with the spinach episode -- in fresh produce never occur, the FDA's goal is to make an outbreak "less likely than the previous one."
In response to a reporter's question, Dr. Acheson said, "Any case of E. coli O157:H7 is one case too many," adding that the "vast majority of great leafy vegetables are safe and getting safer."