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SALINAS SCENE: Classic Salads prepares to launch new web site

Watsonville, CA-based Classic Salads expects to launch a company web site within a few weeks at

The company also recently added Jill Lenz to its sales team. Ms. Lenz previously was in sales for Salinas-based Tanimura & Antle.

United's leadership program makes stop in Salinas
The United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association kicked off the 11th year of its leadership program with a reception and workshops in Salinas, CA, at the Grower-Shipper Association of Central Californias building on July 18-19, with a week of activities planned in Central and Northern California.

The reception featured presentations by Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen; Jim Bogart, Grower-Shipper Association of Central Californias president-secretary; and Grower-Shippers board Chairman John Baillie, who graduated from the leadership program. Jeff Oberman, Uniteds vice president of trade relations, coordinated the programs visit to the Grower-Shipper building.

The objective of the program is to help fresh produce industry professionals develop into the industrys future leaders. Each years class has 12 participants, selected by an independent committee of Uniteds board and alumni of the program. There is no age requirement, but eligibility is limited to representatives of Uniteds member companies. Victoria Kuhns, vice president of education for United, said that participants must have made some investment in the fresh produce industry. "On average [the participants] have seven years in the industry," Ms. Kuhns said.

This years class includes Josh Mitchell of Salinas-based Misionero Vegetable Sales. Misionero President Stephen Griffin was a member of the leadership programs first graduating class in 1995 and later became chairman of Uniteds board.

The weeklong activities included visits to Westside Produce Inc. in Firebaugh, CA, visits to allied members of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League and a-day-and-a-half visit with educators at the University of California-Davis.

Gourmet Veg-Paq ramps up operations

Increased consumer demand for organic products has prompted Gilroy, CA-based Gourmet Veg-Paq Inc. to ramp up operations accordingly.

The company is doubling its square footage in El Centro, CA, with the expected November completion of a 40,000-square-foot facility. The company is also building a new facility in Hollister, CA, near Gilroy. The company plans to move into the Hollister location when it returns from El Centro.

"The production rooms, holding rooms and loading docks are done," said Oscar Contreras, sales manager for Gourmet Veg-Paq. Upon completion, the Hollister facility will be 35,000 square feet, he said.

Gourmet Veg-Paq's harvest in El Centro, where the firm has 500 acres, runs from November to April. The company also has 500 acres in the Hollister-Gilroy area.

Gourmet Veg-Paq grows 100 percent organic items. Spring mix is its biggest seller, but the company also grows such items as spinach, baby lettuce, heirloom tomatoes and arugula. The company sells a little to retailers, but the majority of its sales go to wholesalers in the United States and Canada, Mr. Contreras said. Wholesalers in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area combine to represent half its sales. The company packs under its own Gourmet Veg-Paq label but would like to do private-label packing for retailers, Mr. Contreras said.

The 12-year-old operation has experienced considerable growth in sales in the past three years, Mr. Contreras said, and the company is expanding its operations to meet demand. We have to plant more acres to meet demand, Mr. Contreras said.

The company has several new packaging options, including packing with clamshells used for spring mix and baby spinach. The clamshell options are one pound and five ounces. The company also recently launched cello spinach, which is prewashed and in pillow packs, with four pillow packs of two-and-a-half pounds each.

HURRICANE KATRINA UPDATE: Gulfport banana facilities out of touch

With a stroke of luck, Turbana Corp. in Coral Gables, FL, in recent months moved its Gulf Coast banana-receiving port from Gulfport, MS, to Freeport, TX.

According to national news reports, Gulfport took the worst hit from Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29. Meanwhile, in Freeport, "We didn't have problems with the hurricane, business wise," said Juan Alarcon, Turbana's chief executive officer.

On the night of Aug. 29, Mr. Alarcon wrote by e-mail, "The main problem" for the banana industry as a result of Katrina "would be logistics, basically for Dole an Chiquita" which both have large ports in Gulfport. "It seems that Chiquita diverted its vessel to Freeport and Dole is waiting until the storms clears Gulfport, which I think is risky. Who knows what will happen to the facilities? The other problem could be the fruit that both Chiquita and/or Dole had in inventory in the port. The banana market started improving last week, and this will help even more. This business is about procurement and logistics."

Early on Aug. 29 Marta Maitles, director of communications for Dole Fresh Fruit Co., said, "As of this morning, we have been unable to contact our people at the Gulfport facility, so we do not know what the situation is in Gulfport." At that time, the full force of Hurricane Katrina was battering the Gulf Coast from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana.

At Chiquita Brands International Inc. in Cincinnati, Michael Mitchell, director of corporate communications, said in the early afternoon of Aug. 29, "We are still compiling information about the impact of the storm now. I can confirm that growing areas were not affected, and ships were not sent into harm's way. At this point, it is too early for me to quantify if there will be any disruption to banana supply or pricing."

(Additional updates on the impact of Hurricane Katrina will be posted on this web site as information comes in. A full report will appear in the Sept. 5 issue of The Produce News.)

Healthy gourmet snacks go mass market: Sahale Snacks hit shelves

Sahale Snacks, a Seattle-based producer of all natural, gourmet snack products, is taking a major step forward in realizing its goal of helping American consumers snack better.

The company has announced that its innovative line of nut blends will be sold at more than 140 SuperTarget stores in the United States. Sahale Snacks' new distribution channel reflects the growing trend of consumers demanding natural, healthy gourmet snack alternatives.

Sahale Snacks signature blends  Valdosta, Ksar, Socorro and Soledad  are now available in five-ounce pouches retailing for $3.99 at all SuperTarget stores, including stores in markets such as Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Orlando.

"Our goal is to provide a natural, healthy snack that tastes like great food," said Edmond Sanctis, co-founder of Sahale Snacks. Were thrilled that Target is using its broad reach to give more Americans the opportunity to transform their snack habit into a healthy, gourmet experience.

Sahale Snacks uses tree nuts as the basis of its premium snack blends. Tree nuts are cholesterol free and contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are associated with lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Each of the companys four signature blends also contains natural and organic ingredients, including dried fruit, seeds and spice mixes inspired by regional cuisines. Sahale Snacks has selected ingredients such as organic tapioca syrup and organic evaporated cane juice that serve as an alternative to high-fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener.

In January 2004, Sahale Snacks launched its line of nut blends at a small grocery store in Seattle. Word spread quickly, and Sahale Snacks are now sold in most states at retailers such as Whole Foods, Cost Plus World Market, Recreational Equipment Inc., SuperTarget stores and many leading regional natural and gourmet grocers.

At the recent Fancy Food Show in New York, the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade selected Sahale Snacks Valdosta Blend as one of four new product finalists in the Outstanding Best Seller category during its 33rd annual product award competition. The Valdosta Blend of black-peppered pecans, sweet cranberries and orange zest stood out among more than 3,500 other food products eligible for the award.

Sahale Snacks was founded in Seattle in 2003 by Josh Schroeter and Edmond Sanctis after they climbed Mt. Rainier in Washington state, and endured days of uninspiring trail mix and energy bars. The two set out to create a natural and healthy snack that tasted like great food. The company follows a simple product philosophy: start with natural whole foods, use culinary magic to create exceptional flavors, and offer busy people sophisticated and convenient healthy snacks. Sahale Snacks is dedicated to helping people snack better.

HURRICANE KATRINA UPDATE: 'Our biggest concern right now is the people,' said Doles Marta Maitles

"I'm really concerned about some people down there. Our biggest concern right now is the people who live down there," Dole's Marta Maitles said in the early afternoon of Aug. 30.

Ms. Maitles, who is director of communications for Dole Fresh Fruit Co. in Westlake Village, CA, was speaking of Gulfport, MS, which took the brunt of the force of Hurricane Katrina and where Dole maintains a large facility to receive fruit imported from Latin America. National news reports at the time indicated that there were at least 55 deaths in Mississippi in the hurricane's wake.

"We are still evaluating the situation," Ms. Maitles said. "The port is under water. We know we lost structures and equipment, we just don't know the degree yet. Our plan for the immediate future is to divert the fruit to other port facilities."

She said that a northbound Dole ship was following the hurricane and was diverted to Freeport, TX; another Dole ship had unloaded in Gulfport just before the storm arrived. "I don't believe we lost fruit inventory" from that shipload, "just equipment inventory."

In the meantime, she added, "We have made phone contact with some of our people" in Gulfport. "We're trying to locate them all. We are waiting for them to call out. With cell phones, the incoming calls are the most disrupted."

Asked what will this do to banana prices, she replied, "I have no idea at this point."

Several Aug. 31 phone calls to produce companies in the New Orleans area by The Produce News were met by phone lines that were out of order or unanswered telephones.

(Additional updates on the impact of Hurricane Katrina will be posted on this web site as information comes in. A full report will appear in the Sept. 5 issue of The Produce News.).