(July 17) PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. — Larry Bell knows the fresh-cut industry. He practically started it. But as he received the 2002 Industrial Scientist Award from the Institute of Food Technologists in June, he wanted people to know that he didn’t do it alone.

“It’s great to be recognized by your peers,” he said. “But I think it also speaks to the great work of the people whom I was able to innovate with — my colleagues at Fresh Express — the scientists and researchers who were part of the teams that I had the pleasure of leading. Unfortunately, they gave the award only to me.”

Bell — who received the award at the Institute’s annual convention in Anaheim, Calif., on June 15 – graduated from the University of California, Davis, in 1975 and immediately went to work for the National Food Processors Association in Berkeley, Calif.

In 1977, he went to work for TransFresh Corp., a company that was then the technology arm of Bruce Church Inc. It was there that he helped sow the seeds for the roots of today’s fresh cut industry.

“They had the vision of value-added,” he said. “But their vision was foodservice.”

In 1978, Bell helped launch the predecessor of Fresh Express — Red Coach Foods, which began delivering processed and packaged lettuce and other vegetable products to the foodservice industry.

“We developed the technology and evolved it subsequent to that to tailor it for and refine it for the retail market,” he said.

That technology was put to use when Fresh Express was started in 1989 and Bell said he has seen the fresh-cut retail market grow every year since. In fact, fresh-cut produce had grown to nearly $5 billion by the year 2000, according to the ITC.

During his time at Fresh Express, Bell developed several patents for processing and packaging fresh-cut vegetables and helped pioneer the development of modified-atmosphere packaging that helped retail packaged salads come into existence.

Bell left Fresh Express in March to start his own consulting firm, Fresh Food Solutions, which he runs in Pacific Grove, Calif.

Looking at the future of the fresh-cut market, Bell said salads were only the beginning.

“The consumer seems to continue to be willing to pay for convenience,” he said. “Wherever we can provide convenience, the opportunity for a sale is there. It’s just a matter of continuing to innovate the right products and technologies that sustain freshness and nutritional value and at the same time provide convenience. We’ve got a whole universe of fresh foods to innovate within.”