(March 10) A Midwestern produce marketing firm plans to bring a national brand of sweet onions and potatoes to supermarket shelves.

Starting with Texas 1015s in mid-March, Market Fresh Produce LLC, Lee’s Summit, Mo., is rolling out a year-round program of branded sweet onions. The marketing company has signed on more than a dozen co-packers throughout the U.S. and South America.

National branded storage onion and potato deals are also in the works.

Market Fresh’s entrance into the national deal follows buy-ins from two new investors into the 8-year-old company.

The company is readying packaging at sweet onion growing regions and preparing to ship Texas 1015s, which are expected to hit the market by early April.

The company plans to ship 250,000 to 300,000 modular boxes and 40-pound bulk cartons of all sweet onions in its first year of its national program, Phipps said.

Market Fresh plans to ship medium sweet onions in 2-, 3- and 5-pound mesh bags in display-ready modular boxes. Medium, large and jumbos will also be shipped in 40-pound boxes.

The co-packers are:

  • J.F. Palmer & Sons Produce Inc., Pharr, Texas;


  • Rio Queen Citrus Inc., Mission, Texas;


  • Stanley Farms, Vidalia, Ga.;


  • Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, Ga.;


  • Griffon-Holder Co. Inc., Rocky Ford, Colo.; and


  • North Weld Produce Co., Greeley, Colo.



Because Market Fresh was recruiting shippers from California, the Walla Walla region and Peru in early March, Anthony Totta, Market Fresh’s national marketing director, declined to announce their names until the relationships have been finalized.

Totta had planned to visit the Washington and California shippers the week of March 6 but had to delay his trip after his 86-year-old father, Tony Totta, a Kansas City, Mo., grocer, died March 7.

Because of the progression of the sweet onion seasons, Anthony Totta said Market Fresh was focusing on the 1015s and then the Vidalias.

Phipps, who previously worked as national sales and marketing director for the Centennial, Colo.-based NationFresh tomato marketer and for apple packer Pride Packing Co., Wapato, Wash., bought a third of Market Fresh ownership Nov. 10. Financial arrangements were not disclosed.

Jim Cipriano, who owns Boston-based potato packer Arrow Farms Inc., joined as Market Fresh’s third partner Jan. 1. He also bought a third of the company. Financial arrangements were not disclosed.

Cipriano also owns Boston-based citrus repacker JJR Distributing, which does business as DiSilva Fruit, and he co-owns Boston-based potato and onion wholesaler Gold Bell Inc.

Market Fresh announced the sweet onion deal to retail and foodservice buyers while exhibiting at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure 2006 retail and foodservice conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“With Steve’s expertise, we’re giving the distributors all the ammunition they need to grow sales,” Totta said. “We have the supply and state-of-the-art packaging that communicates to the end user the information they need about the product and a full supply chain management program. It will be big and powerful partnerships with the grower-shippers that is proving to get a lot of results.”

OTHER COMMODITIES

By the end of April, Market Fresh plans to roll out a national branded potato program. The program will include Idaho and Colorado bakers and yukon, red and baby yukon and baby red potatoes, Phipps said.

Market Fresh was developing relationships with storage onion shippers to supply a 12-month red, white and yellow onion program. The company plans to focus its efforts on the fresh deal, Totta said.

Market Fresh has been marketing a line of smaller, 4- to 6-ounce sweet potatoes in 2-pound mesh bags to retailers since September.

One retailer reports the brand has helped increase sales in its 1,600 stores by 20%, Phipps said.

Market Fresh also carries individual wrapped microwaveable sweet potato.

The marketer also has been supplying custom-sized sweet potatoes to a national restaurant chain, Phipps said.

Market Fresh plans to use Cipriano’s operations as a Northeastern forward distribution center and his expertise in strategic planning, Phipps said.

Market Fresh, founded by Totta, was originally supposed to be a regional produce distribution firm. After it shedded itself of its warehouse, the company moved into marketing and consulting.

“We’re now a total marketing organization,” Phipps said. “We’re vertically integrating and bringing growers together to put out one consistent brand that makes for a seamless relationship.”