CHARLOTTE, NC — Chiquita Brands moved its headquarters late last year to a downtown office building, here, located next to the sleek and stylish Hall of Fame for the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, which is apropos since the produce marketer is refocused on its core banana and salad businesses, which are on track and racing ahead, according to Bob Stallman, who gained a new job title during the move.
Mr. Stallman, who had been general manager of salads and healthy snacking, was just getting used to his new title — director of marketing and global licensing for salads and healthy snacking — when he met with The Produce News in in his bright and airy new offices in a Charlotte high-rise.
“I’m in charge of innovation, research and development, and business management for the snacks and salads unit,” he said.
His unit accounts for about a third of Chiquita’s $3.26 billion annual sales. Other revenues are divided among European and North American banana divisions.
The move from Cincinnati brought about 300 Chiquita employees to Charlotte, including some who are stationed in other cities.
“Having everyone in one building brought us closer together and resulted in better teamwork and access to new talent,” he said. “We have prospective employees excited about living and working in Charlotte.”
A company announcement last fall said the move would cost $30 million to $35 million in 2013 and 2014, with $24 million underwritten by state, local and other subsidies over the next decade. In addition, the move is expected to generate annual cost savings of about $4 million over the next decade due to consolidation of offices, lower rent payments and reduced travel costs.
The recession forced a slowing of category growth, Mr. Stallman said, “but with the improving economy, it’s picking back up again.”
He said that sales were helped by Chiquita “refocusing on its core business with a cost structure where we can be competitive.”
Supermarkets play a critical role in Chiquita’s success, he noted. “They account for most of our business.” Healthy eating is a national trend, “and we are here to help consumers by making it easy,” he added.
The company’s Chicago-area facilities are being consolidated in a new super-facility in Streamwood, IL, he said, with improvements in foodservice and retail operations due to the state-of-the-art facility. Chiquita’s Fresh Express operations in Salinas, CA, recently teamed up with Lean Cuisine to combine fresh and frozen products with consumer convenience. Organic salad sales are also growing again, he observed.
Chiquita is part of the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools project, which has raised $6 million to serve 1.2 million school children at 2,380 school salad bars. The goal is to place 6,000 salad bars in schools nationwide by 2015.
“We help this project every year,” Mr. Stallman stated.
Dipping into his research portfolio, he noted that customers who spend the least amount of time shopping for salads rack up the best sales results.
“Shelf assortment is key, with an unrelenting focus on quality, making produce fresh and attractive to consumers,” he said. Consumers’ No. 1 concern from a two-year research project is, “don’t obscure the product with packaging,” he said.
His wife, by the way, won’t shop with him because he gets too distracted watching consumer behavior. The couple has three daughters under the age of 10. A native of Idaho Falls, ID, who holds engineering and business degrees from the University of Notre Dame, Mr. Stallman learned the retail business as a manager of a Walmart customer team for Procter & Gamble.
In 2005, he was named brand manager for P&G’s Bounce laundry product. He did that for almost five years before joining Chiquita three years ago as general manager of salads in Salinas.
On his tidy desk sits a hand, or bunch, of bananas.
“Every Chiquita employee gets a fresh hand of bananas every week,” he noted. “We practice what we preach about healthy eating.”
His favorite fruit: sliced apple snacks, and the ubiquitous Chiquita banana.
At Chiquita, the caution lap is over, and it’s full speed ahead to the checkered flag.