By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. -- A multimillion-dollar expansion is helping Southern Specialties Inc. increase efficiencies.

The grower-shipper, importer and processor is nearing completion of its Miami-area distribution warehouse.

Southern Specialties, which operates out of a 100,000-square-foot warehouse and office operation, added 30,000 square feet of cold storage to its 40,000 square feet of refrigeration after buying a neighboring dry storage building. The company gutted and transformed the former casket facility into a modern produce distribution facility.

The new facility -- in the Pompano Business Park -- includes the addition of four separate temperature and humidity-controlled cold storage rooms and three computerized ripening rooms. Southern also constructed six loading docks and expanded its refrigerated staging area.

The expansions give Southern 10 refrigerated rooms. The company didn't have any ripening rooms for its papayas and mangoes before the expansion, said Gary James, chief operating officer.

The company, which was founded in 1990, previously operated out of two buildings that housed its buying, sales and grower accounting personnel in separate areas.

When facility improvements are completed -- the target is early September -- Southern will have two separate docking and cold storage areas for arriving and outgoing produce.

For customers who do their own trucking, the improvements will shorten waiting times, James said.

"These changes will provide bigger flexibility for us, our customers and our growers," he said. "Spreading the docks out will allow us to better utilize the staging area and will increase trucking efficiency."

Southern has installed energy-efficient lighting and galvanized metal racking, which allows for easier pallet operation. The company has built a lounge for its customers' drivers.

Southern has also installed cameras to record truck loading, said Charlie Eagle, vice president of business development.