Kelly Bros. Inc. in Exeter, CA, was started in 2010 to focus on finding a home in the processing industry for byproducts from fresh citrus packinghouses. Since then, the company has expanded into other commodities, including grapes, watermelons and stone fruit, in all cases sourcing products from packinghouses that are high quality but unsuitable for the fresh market.
“Our stone fruit program is still a growing program” as the company continues to work on signing up vendors, said President Patrick Kelly. “What we do is the same thing we are doing with our [citrus] juice program. We take the byproducts” from peach, nectarine and apricot packinglines “and send them to processors” who use them for making such products as juices and purees.
“A lot of times we are just trying to add some value” to the product for shippers “so they are not taking a direct loss on it,” he said. Otherwise, growers will often just toss those byproducts into their fields and “use them for fertilizer.”
In the packinghouses, the products that can’t make fresh-pack standards are often all regarded as culls and discarded, but Kelly Bros. takes only the good-quality fruit because processors obviously can’t use rotten fruit to make juice, Kelly explained. Shape or appearance may make a piece of fruit unmarketable at retail, but “it has got to still be a good fruit to make juice.”
“We focus on quality and integrity,” he said. “We are inspecting each load,” not just cutting one piece of fruit from a load and taking a single picture as some inspectors do but “actually tearing down pallets, looking at multiple fruit” verifying that the lot meets the quality standards required by customers. “We’ve got to make sure we are heavy on quality and on integrity also, showing the customers what is really out there.”
The stone fruit season is a short season for the company, he said. Typically, processors don’t begin receiving product until about mid-May, and it generally continues through August.
“We are in the middle of our Mexican watermelon program right now,” Kelly said April 17. “We’ve got a guy down in Nogales every day inspecting all of the loads.” Kelly Bros. also has a Mexican grape program that would be starting shortly, followed by California grapes.
Regardless of the commodity, he said in an earlier interview, “we really focus on the specifications of what [customers] need,” making sure that “we supply the processor with the exact specifications” they require for their juice or their value-added products, so they can get the necessary yields from the fruit as well as the required quality.