(Oct. 31) BELLE GLADE, Fla. — To help meet its growing tray-packed sweet corn business, Pioneer Growers Co-op has opened a new packinghouse.

The cooperative also has introduced a microwavable sweet corn pack.

In late October, Pioneer was moving equipment into the 32,000-square-foot building in time for sweet corn packing.

The grower-shipper, which has offered tray-packed sweet corn since the early 1990s, also plans to use the new facility for production of packaged green beans. The $5 million building will include three sweet corn packing lines and one green bean packing line.

Pioneer introduced a microwavable sweet corn pack Sept. 15.

The pack, which is made of microperforated film to allow product breathability, features three ears of husked corn in a lidded tray. Pioneer offers the sweet corn packs 12 trays to the carton.

“By providing consumers a lot more convenience, we think that microwavable packs will represent another breakthrough,” said Gene Duff, executive vice president and general manager. “The eating quality is really terrific.”

Duff said that tray-packed corn represents 15% to 25% of the industry’s overall sweet corn sales.

GREEN BEAN PACKS

In January, the cooperative plans to ship 12-ounce and 2-pound packs of microwavable snipped green beans.

The 12-ounce packs come 24 to a carton, while the 2-pounders will be shipped 12 to a carton.

Also available will be 5-pound nonmicrowavable foodservice bags.

Pioneer has ordered the packaging equipment, which won’t be installed into the company’s facility until January, Duff said.

Like the microwavable sweet corn packs, Pioneer dabbled in cut green beans at the turn of the century, with limited success. Duff said he expects the availability of new and innovative packaging to help increase packed green bean sales. Packaging material, Duff said, then wasn’t really suitable for what Pioneer wanted to produce. Availability of new and innovative packaging can help increase packed green bean sales, he said.

MICHIGAN PRODUCTION

Pioneer plans to pack the sweet corn tray packs at its Bainbridge, Ga., packing operation through early November. The packs have been sold primarily to one major retailer, Duff said.

Pioneer also this year added Michigan production to its sweet corn deal. It is working with Loxahatchee-based Hundley Farms Inc., which is in a partnership with Belle Glade-based TKM Farms Inc. and Stockbridge, Mich., grower Mick Waters to supply 500 acres from early August through mid-September.

The arrangement helped Pioneer supply customers during the gap that occurs in sweet corn production after Georgia’s summer picking ends in late July and before its fall deal begins in late September, Duff said.