J&J Distributing Inc., St. Paul., Minn., is launching a lineup of grilled vegetables this year, mostly as private-label items.

The vegetables are packed in aluminum and ready for the grill, said Kevin Hannigan, vice president.

                                                      Courtesy J&J Distributing Inc.

In addition to other valu-added items, J&J Distributing Inc., St. Paul, Minn., is introducing a line of vegetables ready for the grill, says Kevin Hannigan, vice president.

The company is also working on new salads, some that would contain a protein of some sort, requiring a separate certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While it waits for certification, J&J Distributing has already released a seven-layer salad with bacon for delis that does not require the certification.

To keep up with its salad expansions, the company has also expanded its operations in crisping, cleaning and trimming red leaf, green leaf, romaine and boston lettuce and parsley. The pre-washed leafy greens save stores time and labor.

“We get it ready to go, repack them in RPCs,” Hannigan said. “So when lettuce comes into the store, it can just be taken out of the RPC, or the RPC can be put on the shelf.”

Like other distributors in the area, J&J has seen growth in its organic and fresh-cut sectors.

In organics, Hannigan said more customers are asking for smaller pack sizes, often individually packaged, and deliveries more often.

“We’re doing individual packs instead of two, three or four,” Hannigan said. “We’re overwrapping one pepper at a time, which is new for us this year.”

Hannigan said organic growth has not slowed down at all, but demand for fresh-cut may have.

“The demand is there, but we’re seeing the economy have more of an impact here than in organic,” Hannigan said.

For some of its accounts, the company has a team of merchandisers that spends time in stores to make sure the selection or organics is right, to merchandise and to make orders. Hannigan is planning a similar team for the fresh-cut sector.

“I’m in the process of hiring two to five more guys now, and we hope to have service in place this month,” Hannigan said May 12.

Hannigan said most of J&J’s fresh-cut goes to Cub Foods, a Supervalu chain.

“They’re got their hands full, and we presented the idea of doing this and taking it to the retail level,” Hannigan said. “We’re really going to rotate, really help manage growth in that category.”

J&J’s Michigan growers expanded their acreage by at least 450 acres across the board this year, Hannigan said. The company expects to have more peppers, watermelon, tomatoes, beans, sweet corn, melons, cucumbers, peas, raspberries and strawberries.

The company is also contracting growers for the first time this year in order to create a more sustainable supply chain, Hannigan said.

“People can count on us for profitable volumes,” he said.

J&J operates The Produce Exchange in the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis.