Classically Organic

Foodservice distributor introduces retail organic line

Classic Salads has built a reputation over the past 10 years through marketing quality gourmet baby leaf salads to the foodservice industry, but the company has recently found a new market for their products through the retail industry, unveiling new organic gourmet salad blends at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit International Convention and Exposition in Orlando Oct. 15-18. The move allows the company to capture a share of a growing organic market that is increasingly in demand by consumers.

“Foodservice distributors know us extremely well, but the average consumer wouldn’t see our brand, until now. We have taken a foodservice company and turned it into a foodservice and retail company,” said John Burge, vice president of sales and marketing for Classic Salads.

Classic Salads was created 10 years ago as a processing side of Watsonville, Calif.-based Classic Farms Group of Companies, a vertically-integrated company that grows a variety of fruits and vegetables and processes baby leaf vegetables, including lettuces, spinach and chards. The production side of the company consists of three growing entities: Classic Baby Vegetables, Classic Farms and Classic Berry.

Classic Baby Vegetables was formed in 2000, but the company has been in vegetable production in the Salinas Valley since the mid-1980s, when owner Lance Batistich began farming in 1983. Classic Farms grows a variety of vegetables outside of baby leaf vegetables, including head lettuce and romaine lettuce. Classic Berry focuses solely on strawberry production for the Well-Pict berry company.

Classic Salads provided the processing capabilities as the parent company began a move into the foodservice industry, offering a variety of baby leaf salad blends to foodservice distributors across the United States. As a grower, processor and marketer of its own products, Classic Salads holds a unique position in quality control as many larger corporations source their produce from independent growers, or are cooperatives among many growers, Burge said. It gives Classic Salads full control over the produce marketed to foodservice distributors, and more recently, retail outlets.

“If the grower is the processor, he has no incentive to bring bad raw product into the processing facility, because you don’t want to process bad raw product. It’s an important difference to be the grower and the processor, and it’s nice to have that total control,” Burge said.

The company has grown quickly since its early days in as a vegetable grower in the 1980s, and now has offices in Salinas and Watsonville and a seasonal office Yuma, Ariz., that operates from the end of November through March.

The new retail line of salad blends is primarily organic, but more than 75 percent of the company’s crop is produced conventionally. That is due in part to its foodservice customers, who may be less inclined to provide organic products to their clientele due to the higher cost. But consumers have shown they are willing to pay more for organically-grown produce at the retail level.

To meet that growing organic demand among consumers, the company released 20 new organic salad blends at Fresh Summit, an impressive move for any company, especially one moving into a new market. Fresh Summit was a perfect time and place to debut the salads, considering much of the retail produce industry was represented at the show.

“Twenty new items is a very large amount to come out with at one time, but we expect to expand further. We have sold a very large volume of baby leaf salad blends to the foodservice industry for 10 years, so this is nothing new,” Burge said.

The new varieties, all grown at Classic Farms Group of Companies, will be marketed in clamshells and bags. Seven 5-oz. clamshell varieties will be offered, including spring mix, baby spinach, fresh herb mix, sweet baby lettuces, baby romaine, baby arugula and romaine heart whole leaves. Spring mix and baby spinach also will be offered in 1-lb. clamshells.

Salad blends will be offered in several bag sizes, including Italian salad, romaine salad and hearts of romaine in a 9 oz. size, and spring mix, baby spinach, fresh herb mix, sweet baby lettuces, baby romaine, baby arugula and teen spinach in 5-oz bags. Romaine hearts will additionally be featured in three-count bags.

In addition to the organic salad blends, the company will feature bulk salads in spring mix: sweet mix, baby spinach and baby arugula, grown both conventionally and organically.

Though the salad blends were unveiled at Fresh Summit, they were officially released to retail markets Nov. 1.

“Organic is what the consumer is demanding in gourmet baby leaf salads, and organic baby leaf salads is the fastest growing category of packaged salads, so the consumer acceptance is already there. We are simply a new supplier,” Burge said.

-By Everett Brazil III, Contributing Writer


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