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Firm introduces microwave-ready fresh-cut sweet corn product

Dan R. Costa Inc., which is located near Manteca, CA, specializes in pumpkins, mini-pumpkins, gourds and other ornamental produce items for fall décor. Complementing that product line, the company also is now offering a fresh-cut sweet corn product and a line of fresh-cut hard-shell or winter squash in some innovative consumer pack styles.

The new and just recently introduced fresh-cut sweet corn is microwave-ready. “We’ve raised sweet corn in the past,” Dan Costa, president and founder of the company, said in an Aug. 23 interview with The Produce News. But “it seems like if you try to do something that everybody else does, it is hard to get anywhere.” For that reason, Mr. Costa said, he likes “to try to come up with new items.”

He recalled that his mother “used to freeze corn by cutting it off the cob. I was surprised at how well the kernels stayed together. She would give it a quick blanch and freeze it, and it stayed together perfectly. So when I was looking for something new to come out in the sweet corn line, I wondered if fresh-cut kernels [not frozen] would be something that would be wanted out there, would be popular, would be something people would look for, because I don’t see anyone selling fresh sweet corn kernels.”

An Internet search revealed that one company in New Jersey was putting out a product similar to what he had in mind, “so this gave us a little confidence to look into it” and possibly offer the product on the West Coast, he said. “So we built a facility, and we started getting samples out to different customers.”

One customer was excited about the concept but commented that he noticed the product had “a little aftertaste.” It was determined that the aftertaste came from a product used in the industry to preserve fresh corn, but Mr. Costa was “very concerned. If I don’t have the taste of the real fresh sweet corn come though, that is not going to be something that people are going to like,” he said.

“So I did a lot of research and a lot of testing and read a lot of university papers on preserving vegetables, and we came out with a procedure that we put our fresh sweet corn kernels through” that gives the product a 21-day shelf life without using preservatives, he said. “The product comes out of the cup in 21 days just as good as we put it in, and it has a fresh sweet corn taste without any aftertaste at all.”

Once he had “figured out how to do that,” he said, he was confident he had a product “the public would like.”

The company is in the process of getting samples out to various retail stores, and feedback has been good. Some have said they “really love” the product, Mr. Costa said.

“We have done some testing” in selected stores, sampling the product. The company determined that sautéing the product in a little butter made it “really delicious,” so “that is what we gave out as samples.”

The product is offered in three versions. “One is classic white super sweet corn … then we do a Savory Southwest that has Poblano pepper with red onion and a little red bell pepper. Then we do a sweet summer medley with zucchini, bell pepper and a little bit of white onion.” So far, the classic and the Savory Southwest are the most popular, he said.

The fresh-cut corn products are being offered at retail in three container configurations: a tray that holds the equivalent of six to seven ears of corn, a three-cob microwavable “heat-and-serve” cup, and a single-serving grab-and-go cup.

The company is currently using only all-white super sweet corn in the new fresh-cut product. “That is what we predominantly grow, and the trade likes it here in California,” Mr. Costa said. “But if we have customers that would like yellow or bi-color, we can put that up also.”

The new product will be available year-round, Mr. Costa said. The company’s Central California sweet corn crop is now in production, and at other times of the year, “we will be sourcing from the California desert and [from] Mexico so we can keep [customers] going on it year-round.”