Crunch Pak provides backstage Oscar fare

Crunch Pak sliced apples starred in last month’s Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood. The Cashmere, Wash.-based company was invited to ship 32 boxes to the Hollywood & Highland Center — enough to feed more than 200 presenters and 20 production and executive staff, said Tony Freytag, senior vice president sales and marketing.

Freytag said Crunch Pak plans to work on additional award shows in the future.

Fans of the company’s sliced apples now have two new ways to enjoy their favorite snack, Snackers and Dipperz.

Snackers are a 5-ounce fresh snack kit containing different combinations of fruit and sides, such as dip and cheese, in a mini tray.

The line was originally designed as a Disney Foodle for kids, Freytag said, but adults who loved the items said they didn’t fancy taking a Mickey Mouse-themed pack to work.

"We created the line and then expanded the combinations to meet the growing demand from kids and adults for healthy, convenient, portable snacks," Freytag said.

The kits will retail for $1.19 to $2.29.

Crunch Pak’s new Dipperz feature single-serve apple slices with a low-fat caramel or chocolate dip and weigh in at just 80 calories. The carrot pack comes with a low-fat ranch dip. Dipperz will retail from 99 cents to $1.29.

Freytag said the company’s new packages, products and partnerships combined generate more than 20% annual growth, and the company has tripled in size in the past five years.

Crunch Pak processes 2 million apple slices a day, he said, and more than a billion slices a year.


Dole Fresh Vegetables offers one-cut salads

Monterey, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Vegetables promises consumers a one-cut salad with its new Hand Picked Selections.

Each clamshell offers two complementary heads of lettuce that, when cut at the core, create a salad of bite-sized leaves.

"No additional chopping or tossing is required," said Chris Mayhew, director of brand marketing and strategy.

Mayhew said the first two Hand Picked selections, a red and green butter duo and a green butter and green oak leaf duo, should be in stores nationwide in May at a suggested retail price of $3.49.


Five Crowns raises funds for charities

Brawley, Calif.-based Five Crown Marketing will use the packaging on corn grown by its partner, Tracy, Calif.-based Prima Bella Produce Inc., to raise money for charity.

In October, the company will sell its corn in pink trays to raise funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and in November the package will feature a link to the website of the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, said sales manager Daren Van Dyke.

Van Dyke said Five Crowns is considering several new corn packs. One may be geared to kids, since studies show that corn is the favorite vegetable of children under 12.

The market continues to grow for value-added corn, he said.

"I think there’s always going to be that consumer who doesn’t want to dig through the bulk bin," he said.

"With food safety concerns, and the demands being placed on value-added processors, the package gives them a sense of security."

The Prima Bella package offers complete traceback to the field, he said. During the off-season, the company’s contract growers in Mexico must meet the same strict requirements.

Many retailers carry bulk and packaged corn at the same time with great success, Van Dyke said.

"If they’re on a big bulk corn promotion for Memorial Day, they’ll promote packages along with it. So you can still give that consumer a deal."


Gourmet Trading offers white asparagus

Los Angeles, Calif.-based Gourmet Trading Co. hopes to expand the asparagus category with its new peeled white asparagus in a bag.

It should be in supermarkets across North America by Easter, said marketing director Julia Inestroza.

It’s being grown in Peru year-round, and is available in 9-ounce, 1-pound and 1.5-pound bags to appeal to retail and foodservice.

Gourmet Trading Co. is also seeing a growing demand for its 12-ounce trimmed, washed and bagged green asparagus spears.

"Interest is being driven not only from a food safety level but also from a shrink perspective," Inestroza said.

"Retailers who switch to a bagged program see a great reduction in shrink."

The Stepac Xtend technology film used in Gourmet Trading’s green and white program extends shelf life and offers lots of space to give consumers information about the product, she said.

The company also bags green asparagus for Green Giant Fresh, which promotes the Box Tops for Education program.

"Parents look for the label and are preferential to brands that carry it," Inestroza said.


Highline goes all year with stuffed portabellas

Stuffed portabella mushrooms, launched as a holiday item, are now a year-round item for Leamington, Ontario-based Highline Mushrooms, Canada’s largest mushroom grower.

The two newest fillings, Rustic Mediterranean and Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato blends, packaged in a recyclable black till, can be served as an appetizer, side dish or entree any day of the week, said Jane Rhyno, director of sales and marketing.

New sizes and fillings are in the works as the category continues to evolve, Rhyno said.

Sliced brown mushrooms now hold first place in growth in the U.S. and Canada, she said.

In fact, the entire mushroom category continues to grow as retailers devote more space to different varieties and cuts.

For the consumer intimidated by exotics such as oysters and shiitakes, Highline has packaged these mushrooms in three-mushroom blends including sliced white or crimini mushrooms.

"It’s hard to get customers to move into the exotic category unless a recipe calls for it," Rhyno said, "but these blends are opening up the category and making them less scary."


Testa Produce’s school snack packs take off

Peter Testa, president of Chicago wholesale distributor Testa Produce Inc., said 2-ounce fresh fruit and vegetable snacks bound for area school districts have taken off in the past year.

"Every school district wants them," said Testa, "but some local processors are using a heavy plastic that’s hard for the little kids to rip open."

He said the variety of mini portions being packaged is mind-boggling, from broccoli and cauliflower florets, mangos and star fruit to Belgian endive, radicchio, grapes and cherry tomatoes.

"Most little kids will tell you they’re not putting this stuff in their mouths," said Testa, a member of Pro*Act, "but, as amazing as it sounds, some kids are actually trying it and saying they like it. So now their parents can go out and buy those items for them in the grocery store."

The other challenge in the 2-ounce program is maintaining the shelf life of 40-50 items in tiny bags, usually packaged 80 to a box.

"Some items don’t do well in small bags," Testa said. "They’re more susceptible to temperature variations than a bigger bag would be and can heat up quickly."

Despite the snags, Testa remains enthusiastic about the program.

"There’s a huge win here if you get this program to work in all the schools," he said.

"Get kindergarten and first-grade kids eating raspberries, blueberries, grapes and apples, and you’ll have them for their entire life."


Wada Farms sees sweet spud sales surge

Sweet potatoes are proving a sweet seller for Wada Farms.

"Volumes are starting to pick up and become measurable," said Kevin Stanger, owner and vice president sales and marketing at Idaho Falls, Idaho-based Wada Farms Marketing Group.

Stanger said restaurants such as Texas Roadhouse are now serving sweet potatoes along with baked potatoes, which is encouraging consumers to try them at home.

While most retailers want smaller sizes, Stanger said Wada has found great acceptance for its individually wrapped jumbo sweet potatoes, currently rolling out across the country.

Sales of fingerlings, petites and other specialty potatoes enjoyed in restaurants are also gaining followers.

"It’s not moving at the pace of bagged salads," Stanger said, "but specialty items are coming along."

Sales of value-added 1-pound microwavable bags of red, russet and yellow potatoes have increased considerably over the last few years, he said.

"The biggest factor is convenience," Stanger said. "Quality has to be a given, or it isn’t going to move. You can grab a roast chicken, a bag of salad and a loaf of French bread, microwave a hot potato side item in eight minutes and have dinner on the table in 10.

"And it’s all fresh."