Matthew Blackwell, director of operations for Aurora Products Inc. in Stratford, CT, is also the son of the company’s president and chief executive officer, Stephanie Blackwell. Ms. Blackwell founded the company 14 years ago.
“I describe my role as a fireman because I put out fires,” said Mr. Blackwell. “I find solutions to just about anything that surfaces, which varies from day to day. It’s a very interesting position because I am always learning new and more efficient ways of doing things.”
The company is in the middle of a very exciting project. It has purchased a facility in Orange, CT, and is in the process of a total refurbishment.
“The facility was previously a jewelry manufacturer,” said Mr. Blackwell. “It had a 10,000-square-foot safe with walls that were two-foot thick-much like a bunker-that we had to rip out. We are renovating to bring it up to federal, state and city codes, as well as SQF [Safe Quality Food] compliance.”
Aurora Products has been SQF 2000, Level 2-certified for three years. New floors are being installed that are perfectly smooth and impervious. The new waterboard walls will be completely waterproof and washable to prevent them from harboring bacteria.
“Even the ceiling will be completely smooth and white-glove clean,” said Mr. Blackwell. “The food inspectors will actually go up there with white gloves to make sure it is spotless.”
Once retrofitted, the 100,000-square-feet facility will give the company a 33 percent space increase over its current 75,000-square-foot building. Mr. Blackwell said the company hopes to have at least some operations functioning by spring 2013.
“We’ll be doing there exactly what we’re doing in our existing facility: purchasing, storing, manufacturing trail mixes, roasting nuts and packaging,” he added.
Paul Bellacero, regional sales manager for Aurora Products, told The Produce News that Thanksgiving and Christmas are the two big hitters when it comes to the demand for nuts and dried fruits. Thanksgiving dinners typically include stuffing made with walnuts and cranberries. Other items that sell strong during the holidays are cashews, figs, almonds, pecans and pistachios in both conventional and organic options.
“Pecans are used in pies, sliced almonds are a favorite for vegetable dishes and even for snacking,” said Mr. Bellacero. “We see the same surge at Christmas, with the addition of cashews, pistachios, figs and dates for snacking as well as for use in deserts.”
Aurora Products’ single serve bags-launched in 2011-range from 1.35- to 1.15-ounce and are available in three varieties: Cranberry Health Mix, Raw Almonds and Salad Fixins, the latter of which was designed to add a little “crunch” to salads.
“We offer the single-serving pack to retailers in various pack options to provide flexibility in displaying at the store level,” explained Mr. Bellacero. “We sell a floor display with 200 individual packs as a package deal. Customers can then buy refill cases to keep the display case stocked. This is an ideal item to place near cash registers.
“One major national chain has purchased a total of 4,200 cases of the single-serving bags since it first took the product in May,” said Mr. Bellacero. “This company uses it as a cash register program, and it has more than doubled its original order in its reorders.”
Aurora Products also offers a countertop display which comes with 24 bags of product, packed two in each master box. For consumers who want to buy more than just one serving, it offers a six-pack of single-serving bags called Snack Pack.
With the holidays approaching, Aurora Products is rolling out more of its holiday packs. It offers the traditional four-section and six-section trays of mixed nuts and/or dried fruit. New in the line are three Trio Trays. One is an almond trail mix trio with three different trail mixes: the Cranberry Health Mix, the Pacific Almond Mix and the Rocky Mountain Mix.
“We also offer a Tavern Tray with a spicy pub mix,” said Mr. Bellacero, “and we offer other interesting mixes. Our Cranberry Delight mix has yogurt covered cranberries, dark chocolate covered cranberries and orange flavored cranberries. These are all great holiday items.”
The company is also now offering a one-pound resealable pillow pack of baking items for the holiday season.
“During the holiday season, a lot of stores put out these large resealable pillow bags with a pound of, for example, walnuts, pecans, sliced almonds or slivered almonds,” said Mr. Bellacero. “These offer great convenience in that if a consumer does not use an entire bag in one baking session, the remaining product will stay fresh.”
Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Bellacero are joined in the company’s operations by Michelle Cerritelli, art and marketing coordinator, and Jeff Prusak, director of purchasing.