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J&J Distributing anticipating green light in December

With the anticipated completion of Phase Two of a major green-energy development project in St. Paul, MN, all systems are a go for J&J Distributing Co.

The company was awarded funding from the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus project, and the project is being completed through the cooperative efforts of the private and public sectors. Phase Two adds a state-of-the-art processing facility at the business complex.

Executive Vice President of Marketing Kevin Hannigan, Executive Vice President-Fresh Cut Stephanie Hannigan, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Hannigan and Chief Operating Officer Debbie Hannigan. (Photo courtesy of J&J Distributing)

“The project changed a little. We added a three-high, 10,000-square-foot cold-storage facility and added 10,000 square feet onto the existing processing facility,” Chief Executive Officer Jim Hannigan told The Produce News on Nov. 8. “We are six months behind schedule but should be finished on Nov. 23.”

The Phase Two facility is anticipated to go online on Dec. 7.

Fresh produce currently is processed at the company’s division, Cuttin’ Time. Processed products are marketed to the foodservice and retail sectors in a variety of sizes and packages.

The new facility will expand company operations. “We now have a USDA room for protein, a deli room for all single-serve salads, wraps, sandwiches, hot dips and to-go items,” Mr. Hannigan commented. “We have added a fresh-squeezed juice room, offering non-pasteurized juices and lemonade. Plus we have added a Turatti lettuce line with a form fill and seal bagger, which will give us the ability to service any level of volume.”

The expansion also is expected to create new jobs in St. Paul. “We are not sure on how many jobs will be created. We are hoping a lot. We are looking to help St. Paul grow,” Mr. Hannigan added.

The green-energy project, which will include a third phase in the near future, has attracted considerable attention. It was the first trillion-BTU project considered by the Obama Administration.

“Xcel was a partner in our refrigeration project along with the Port Authority,” Mr. Hannigan explained. “The City of St. Paul partnered with us on the processing and cold-storage portion with Western Bank. It turned out to be a much larger undertaking than expected but will be a state-of-art facility with an emphasis on food safety. We have a new food safety and [quality assurance] director and have also added a food scientist, giving us the expertise to achieve an SQF 2000 certification.”

Phase One was designed to reduce energy consumption by replacing an aging refrigeration system with a centralized high-efficiency system. “The waste heat of the new chillers will be used for heating our offices and the proposed greenhouse,” the company’s web site states. “In addition, the excess heat will be used for defrost of the chillers.” Evaporator motors were retrofitted with high-efficiency electronically commutated motors, and the facility lighting system also was retrofitted.

J&J already is assessing the impact of Phase One on reduced energy consumption. “We are doing a study on that right now,” Mr. Hannigan said. “That also ran way behind schedule and was just completed, but we have added a tremendous amount of refrigeration, and the first month we saved about $7,000.”

He was asked about work on Phase Three, an urban greenhouse warmed by other heat-producing components at the J&J complex. “The Phase Two part of the project has been so intense we have not dealt with Phase Three yet,” he replied. “We have done all of the research and have found a partner, but the family has to approve the project and everyone wants to finish Phase Two first.”

The company hopes commercialization of produce grown in the greenhouse will begin in November 2012. Tomatoes will definitely be included, while items such as English cucumbers and peppers are under consideration.

Mr. Hannigan has maintained his good humor throughout Phase Two development, saying, “I lived through it.”

A video of the facility’s improvement kickoff at J&J, as well as other videos highlighting St. Paul’s sustainable-energy policy, can be found on-line at YouTube.