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SunFed extends extended shelf-life technology to consumer packaging

Nogales-SunFed
Eric Meyer, Kristina Federico, Mari Davidson, Frank Camera, Denise Quiroga and Matt Mandel of SunFed.

NOGALES, AZ — SunFed, which continues on a growth mode this year as evidenced by new staff additions and promotions as well as across-the-board volume increases in most items, has long been a leader in the use of extended-shelf-life packaging technologies.

“At SunFed, we have always prided ourselves on extended-shelf-life technologies, and we have done so by utilizing a modified-atmosphere, modified-humidity packaging,” said Matt Mandel, vice president of sales and marketing, Nov. 10. “Up to this point in time, that has only been available on our bulk packages. We are now translating that same material to consumer packages as well.”

As an example, whereas an average bag of Bell peppers may have a shelf life of two weeks, “we have actually extended the shelf life of a stoplight Bell pepper package to 45 days,” Mr. Mandel said. And the product remains “100-percent natural” with “no gasses, no chemicals involved.”

The idea, he said, is to deliver peak freshness — the look that a fruit or vegetable has when it is “just cut from the plant. It’s got that sheen. It’s beautiful. We want to deliver that not just to the retail shelves but to the consumer’s home.” The material SunFed is using for extended-shelf-life packaging “gives us that opportunity to do so, so we are going to be delivering the freshness that has repeatedly been shown as the key driver in produce sales,” Mr. Mandel said.

SunFed has “the ability to do whatever the customer is looking for” in terms of consumer packaging, Mr. Mandel said. “We have two different machines. The one can work with some type of supportive material, whether it is a tray or a box of some sort.” The other does flow pack free-form packaging or bags. “So regardless of the product that people are looking for, we can find a way to pack it. Basically, every product that we carry, we can translate into one of these packages,” he said.

The technology is proven, he added. “We have been using this for nine years now on all our bulk packaging, so we have the processes down to make it work.”

Mr. Mandel, who was recently promoted from sales manager to vice president of sales and marketing, told The Produce News that since coming to the company, he has been “doing a little bit of everything, whether it is working in the warehouse or working with our growers. There really wasn’t anything that I said no to. I want to learn it all.”

Omar Losolla, who previously was an f.o.b. salesman with the company, now has been promoted to sales manager. “We have also promoted Mari Danielson,” he said. “She used to be f.o.b. sales as well, and she is now the head of our consumer products division,” overseeing retail consumer packaging.

The company also has hired two new people for sales. One is Eric Meyer, who previously was with Wilson Produce. “We also hired Frank Camera, formerly of Four Seasons Produce in Ephrata, PA,” Mr. Mandel said. “Those two are now national f.o.b. salesmen.”

On the production side, “we are constantly reevaluating our production base, whether it is from the standpoint of specific production locations or products,” Mr. Mandel said. “We are always bringing new people into the fold as well,” to take care of the company’s production in Mexico. “And we are constantly growing. It is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem if it is not managed properly.”

SunFed has increases this year “across the board on every commodity we produce,” he said. The volume increases essentially are “just incremental increases” to meet customer demand. “The most significant increase is going to be our tomato program,” which will be up by about 150 percent over prior years, “the majority of which will be Roma tomatoes.”

The company is “always looking to expand into new growing areas as well,” he said. The need to do so was underscored by the freeze last winter. “Thankfully, we were fairly well diversified ... but it really stressed the importance of diversification. So we are spreading out and growing more in areas where we were growing less before and also looking at completely new areas.”

SunFed has historically focused on soft squash, hothouse-grown colored Bell peppers, hothouse-grown cucumbers, eggplant and green beans, with a goal to excel with those products in terms of freshness and quality.

Hothouse Romas, which the company has handled in the past, are “going to be a core part of our line this year,” he said. Hothouse Romas are something “we have noticed that we can do well and consistently to the point that we are delivering something other than what the competition is doing.” Using hothouses for 100 percent of Bell, cucumber and Roma production is “what really allows us to get that consistent quality that others struggle with,” he said.

This year, “we are going to be strengthening our position in the organic category as well,” Mr. Mandel said. It is one of the larger shippers of squash, “so the natural entry into the market for us was both zucchini and yellow straight neck. But we are going to ... expand our organic line to encompass almost everything that we handle conventionally grown.”