Mann Packing introduces leafy green products to retail customers

July 21, 2008

Mann Packing Co.’s is almost synonymous with broccoli. That’s no surprise, as the Salinas, Calif.-based grower, shipper and processor is the world’s largest shipper of the vegetable. But the company also handles more than 30 different vegetables and Lori Koster, vice president of marketing, is excited about some of the new, non-broccoli items.

A Mann Packing affiliate company, Fresh Leaf Farms, processes leafy green vegetables in a state-of-the-art facility surrounded by 3,500 acres of leafy greens. That facility has been churning out fresh-cut single-serve cuts of whole leaf red and green head lettuce and romaine hearts for foodservice customers in 2000, and is set to release them to retail customers under the name Simply Singles.

“Simply Singles were so well received by the foodservice industry we’ve spent the past years working on keeping acreage and production capacity up with that demand,” Koster said.

Fresh Leaf Farms uses a patented process that provides a clean cut and reduces the time between cutting and cooling the leafy greens. In addition to the recently expanded processing facility with a full food safety and HACCP plan, all of the lettuce is grown according to California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s food safety practices. Both Mann Packing and Fresh Leaf Farms signed the agreement, which certifies that members through official government audits.

“We have one of the most competitive cut to cool times in the industry when it comes to whole leaf products,” Koster said. “The key to a quality whole leaf single is in the cut. That is what gives you shelf-life and the cleaner, the sharper the cut, the less pinking you’ll see on the end of the leaf.”

The Simply Singles red and green leaf singles will be available in a 7-ounce clamshell and the romaine hearts will be packaged in a 9-ounce clamshell. The line uses a tamper-evident strip instead of the traditional shrink band based on consumer research that showed shoppers had trouble removing the bands.

“Consumers told us they get frustrated when trying to remove the plastic shrink bands and they can sometimes tear or come off in areas during transport leaving a less than polished look on the shelf,” Koster said. “This tamper-evident strip is next generation packaging.”

Prior to launching the retail line, Mann Packing conducted consumer focus groups and more than 500 store intercepts to find out what retail shoppers were looking for in the fresh-cut products and presentation.

“It was apparent from the start that consumers want to see the product so we went with a clamshell and a clear label which provides a 360º view,” Koster said. “The fact these products are used by chefs also resonated with consumers. The back label copy encourages consumers to cook like the pros and let’s them in on a ‘trick of the trade,’ so to speak.”

One of those tips on the label tells shoppers how to remove pinking, which is possible to some extent from storage and display conditions.

“We also know that pinking on the ends of the leaves, while kept to a minimum, is expected and normal. Instead of trying to hide it, the label educates consumers to do what the chefs do and simply ‘pinch, remove and use,’” Koster said.

Simply Singles offer shoppers a convenience product that reduces waste and spoilage. The product also has benefits for the stores. There is less disposal cost from wasted product and reduced labor and maintenance because no cutting is required at the store level and they don’t need to be misted. The line also could reduce cleaning and sanitizing time and provide better sales data from the individual barcodes, Koster said.

“With Simply Singles, we are shipping a 100 percent edible product in a recyclable clamshell and recyclable, non-wax carton,” she said. “There is no raw product waste. The tougher, outer leaves of the plant are removed in the field and disked back into the soil, providing nutrients for sustainability. The tougher, sometimes broken leaves are not shipped to retail outlets only to be trimmed down in the backroom and discarded at store level.”

The shoppers Mann Packing talked to said they would eat more leafy green vegetables if they were more convenient. The Simply Singles line offers that convenience, and it provides the retail produce managers with more time to interact with consumers to educate them about fruits and vegetables and their role in nutrition.

“Our consumer research indicates that consumers are looking for cleaner, safer products that provide tamper evidence,” Koster said. “They indicated they would use more of the leafy green items, more frequently, due to ease, which will grow category sales. We have more space on the package to communicate benefits and usage ideas, two things consumers are craving for.

“Produce managers will also have more time to interact with their customers on the store floor since it requires less work in the backroom to get the items on shelf. Consumers are also looking for more interaction between themselves and the produce manager.”

With consumers increasingly demanding high quality produce together with convenience, fresh-cut processors are using their foodservice experience to build retail sales. Companies like Mann Packing have worked with chefs to develop innovative products that reduce labor and waste while providing produce that is safe, tastes good and has high visual quality. Mann Packing’s investment in consumer research helped the company find the right packaging and marketing to hit that target customer.

“A great deal of loyalty for the Simply Singles brand has developed over the years among foodservice distributor and operators,” Koster said. “No doubt we will continue to grow the foodservice segment, but we are also excited about offering this proven brand and product concept to the retail channel.”