MINNEAPOLIS — A variety of strengths are leading to dynamic growth for the pre-cut produce offerings of G.O. Fresh, located here.
A key base for the company is strict cleanliness and food-safety procedures throughout operations. Beyond that, said Marylou Owen, owner and chief operations officer, a good taste profile is critical for her firm’s offerings.
When The Produce News visited G.O. Fresh in mid-November, Owen proudly introduced several members of the quality assurance and food safety staff. They provided samples of what will become a proprietary salad for one of many foodservice clients. The pre-cut vegetable salad was not only very fresh and crisp, but the mixture and process presented a very sweet-tasting salad. Owen noted, “So much about produce is about appearance. But you have to have flavor. The flavor profile is so important. The customer comes back if it tastes good.”
Another key consideration at G.O. Fresh is packaging, which must not only address appearance, but also maximize product shelf life.
“We work with our customers to develop whatever they want” in a pre-cut form, Owen said. Being a relatively small, regional firm enables G.O. Fresh to move very quickly to create items to serve those customer needs, she added. The flexible nature of G.O. Fresh lets the firm enjoy extra business such as running certain volumes of test product for outside food manufacturers.
Owen was careful not to share trade secrets, but she did mention the use of the high-priced “Tsunami 100” brand organic wash. This is not only effective from a food-safety point of view, but maintains products’ natural taste, she said.
Mark Remold, purchasing manager, said another key to success at G.O. Fresh is decade-plus relationships with growers and truckers. Such relationships and the understanding therein maximize efficiency and product quality. G.O. Fresh warehousemen are experienced receivers who inspect quality immediately as product arrives, he said.
Owen emphasized that good employees are a necessary element to the strength of the successful firm. G.O. Fresh pays full employee benefits, including health coverage and a 401K.
This staff works hard, with the operation being closed only on Christmas and New Year’s days. On holidays such as July 4, the company management also works to serve employees and bring special levity to the atmosphere by serving lunches of hot dogs or other seasonal treats.
Owen indicated that the Twin Cities have many ethnic groups, with especially large numbers among Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong and Hispanic populations.
G.O. Fresh employee May Yang was four years old when her Hmong family arrived in the winter of 1980 from Vietnam. She wore sandals as she stepped off the plane into snowy Minnesota.
Owen said many churches in Minneapolis help such immigrants get their feet on the ground and this was the case for Yang’s family. Years later, Yang began working at G.O. Fresh and is now the firm’s highly professional production manager. Her niece, Anna Yang, started as the G.O. Fresh receptionist and now heads human resources.
Prior to the face-to-face visit, G.O. Fresh progress was outlined with The Produce News in a conference call with Owen, Brent Beckman, director of sales and marketing, and Scott Grow, quality assurance manager.
Beckman said, “One of the most exciting developments is a new potato variety” that provides fresh french fries for the foodservice market. French fries made with this new potato variety don’t require blanching and ultimately have a lower fat content. “It’s exciting. We’re working the bugs out but we’ve had a positive response” over the last six months as the product has been integrated into the marketplace.
In another move ahead, G.O. Fresh has expanded its facility to accommodate peeling its own onions. “We have the freshest peeled onion the market has to offer,” Beckman said. This new expansion began operating about six months ago and after testing and fine-tuning operations, it has been steadily in production for the last three.
Owen said, “We are very pleased” with the new onion-peeling operation, which involves red and yellow onions. “Primarily, we are a foodservice processor. This is what the customers want.” She noted that G.O. Fresh has long offered pre-cut potatoes, stir fry and fruit. “Onions were a really good opportunity. We have good quality for our restaurant customers.”
Restaurants are actually once removed from G.O. Fresh, which targets foodservice distributors in the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. G.O. Fresh packs in private labels as well as its own brand.
School foodservice operations are a G.O. Fresh market and the firm is developing smaller packaging — such as a two-ounce individual serving pack — to help schools provide fresh produce for its students. G.O. Fresh individual serving packs are also sold at universities and in convenience stores.
Beckman said the limited budgets for school foodservice programs creates a challenge for individual school servings. As a result, G.O. Fresh is involved with a packaging company doing extensive research and product development to serve that market.
Grow said the initial focus for fresh-cut items served in the small individual packs are pineapple, cantaloupe, watermelon and fresh vegetables.
Owen added, “We are doing this now. But looking at different ways of doing this. We want to be more effective and more user-friendly, make it easy for kids to open the package.”
Beckman noted, “There is definitely a demand from schools” and finding the right price point is the challenge.