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Wilcox Fresh regrows grower-shipper identity

Wilcox Fresh has embraced its historic roots as a premier grower-shipper of quality potatoes and onions with the introduction of its “Mother Earth Fresh” label. Jim Richter, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said that this represents a new and exciting direction for the company, which had been allied with the “Birds Eye Fresh” label since 1999.

“It was important for us to reaffirm our identity as a grower-shipper,” he told The Produce News Nov. 22. “It’s all about the process and final product. It’s important to put the focus on what’s in the bag. That product in the bag is more important as we drive through a difficult economy.”

The family-owned fourth-generation business, founded in 1948, is headquartered in Rexburg, ID. The company markets Idaho and non-Idaho russets as well as other potato varieties such as white, gold, red, purple, creamers and fingerlings. The company’s onion manifest includes Vidalias, Empire Sweets, Walla Walla sweets and South American and Central American sweets. Wilcox Fresh also sells a variety of sweet potatoes and yams including Beauregards, Garnets and Georgia Reds.

The company markets 70 percent of its commodities to retail customers and the balance to foodservice. “That kind of diversification is important,” Mr. Richter said.

He added that potatoes are peaking on larger carton sizes this season, an ideal situation for retailers. “Bigger sizes can set retailers apart,” he noted.

And the pendulum is swinging in a different direction in the aftermath of carbohydrate consumption admonitions touted by Atkins Diet proponents — the nutritional value associated with potato consumption is once again being recognized. “We were the first potato grower to get the endorsement of the American Heart Association Heart-Check Mark,” Mr. Richter said. Since the endorsement three-and-a-half years ago, the Idaho Potato Commission has set up the program for other Idaho potato growers. “That was really exciting,” Mr. Richter said.

Wilcox Fresh can help retailers maintain product volume with both long-term and short-buy opportunities. Mr. Richter said that the company brings significant category-management expertise to the table to enhance retailers’ bottom lines. The key question, he observed, is “How can we move overall results forward?”

Key personnel at the company are instrumental in forging the company’s reputation. They include Transportation Manager Cameron Kerbs, Category Manager Nicole Rumsey, Sales Assistant Rhe Jones and Category Manager Jason Marco, who works from the company’s operation in Maine.

Mr. Richter said that he is excited about his work as a member of the board of directors of the Produce Marketing Association’s Foundation For Industry Talent, which engages in fundraising for future produce industry leaders.