Prime Time making adjustments to new normal

veineEarly on in its existence, Prime Time established a formula for success. It has stuck to that plan for more than a quarter century. While there have been new ventures and variations along the way, the key signature items have remained the same over the years.

“The value placed on quality products and consistent, premium service has never been sacrificed,” said Katy Johnson, marketing director at the Coachella, CA-based company. “Prime Time has become a name people know and a brand they trust.”

During the past few months, the company has been continuously adjusting to the new normal brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Across the board, masks are mandatory, visitors are restricted, and plexiglass panels have been installed between work spaces where possible,” Johnson said. “Our sales and accounting offices have staggered in-office hours to avoid excessive face-to-face contact between employees.”

However, those types of adjustments are not as easy to do out in the fields and in the warehouses, she noted.

“Our normal stringent food-safety protocol has helped in the transition to the new COVID-19 world, but right now, the heat and COVID-19 restrictions are our biggest challenges,” Johnson said. “Harvest crews are asked to wear uncomfortable face masks and gloves in the summer heat, work in close proximity of others and comply with strict safety requirements as mandated by the state.”

Labor and water issues are always at the top of the challenge list for California growers as well. With the added constraints of the current pandemic, she noted labor is even more difficult to manage than normal although the company is grateful to have only faced minor hurdles so far.  

Initially, the company saw a dramatic drop in its foodservice business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that has begun to stabilize somewhat.

“Luckily, between a fairly strong retail market and previously committed contract business, the negative impact on sales has been somewhat minimized,” Johnson said. “Of course, it’s a challenge to conduct business remotely, but our team has been embracing it exceptionally well and, likewise, our customers have not skipped a beat.”

Prime Time has utilized the down times in 2020 to upgrade facilities, implement state-of-the-art packing equipment, and increase storage and loading capacity in some locations.

“2020 allowed us time to do a thorough ‘spring cleaning’ for the summer season,” Johnson said. “Knowing how to build on the company’s strengths and recognize where there are weaknesses has been the backbone of Prime Time’s success. Being innovative and flexible to change, while staying ahead of the pack has helped as well. As one of our founders, Mark Nickerson, likes to say, ‘Make Dust, Don’t Eat It.’”

The company is just beginning to transition its production to the southern San Joaquin Valley and central coast of California and will be in peak pepper harvest all summer and into the fall in these areas. Johnson said the company anticipates good quality and quantity all season long from the Somis location.

Prime Time continues to look for ways to enhance its current program.  

“We are still expanding our newly added asparagus segment, as well as looking for ways to smooth out the minor peaks and valleys in our pepper production,” Johnson said. “Our growers are constantly trying new things and seeking new opportunities, but at the moment, we are content with just staying afloat in this river of uncertainty.”

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