Cool Creations

The past two decades have seen exceptional growth for C&C Produce. Sales have risen every year they have been in business, and the customer base has spread across the Great Plains and Midwest to meet the needs of retailers and food service outlets. But it is the sister company, Cool Creations, that has defied expectations, dramatically expanding its line of value-added products in only a year’s time.

C&C Produce
The C&C Produce story dates back to 1992 when the doors opened as a produce wholesaler in Kansas City. Growth has been steady during the past 20 years.

“Our business just continued to grow, and we’ve grown in double digits every year by giving our customers exceptional customer service and quality,” said Nick Conforti, C&C Produce co-owner and vice president.

The company serves customers in a 750-mile radius around Kansas City that stretches across Missouri and Kansas, south into Oklahoma and Texas and north into Nebraska and Minnesota. The company operates out of a 200,000 square-foot facility, shipping product through its own fleet of refrigerated trucks. C&C Produce sources a variety of produce from independent growers and packers, including bananas, citrus, apples, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots and leaf produce.

But most of C&C Produce’s stock is fresh, so it wasn’t until the creation of Cool Creations that it began a move toward value-added products, offering a new way to serve their retail customers, as well as consumers.

“We felt like there was a need in the Midwest, especially in Kansas City, for fresh-cut options, but we didn’t think there was anyone taking care of the retail end,” Conforti said. “We wanted to get a retailer mentality on the cut fruit.”

The past year has been surprisingly successful, much more than either company anticipated.

“It has been better than we expected – we expected it to grow very quickly, but it’s pretty much doubled our expectations,” Conforti said.

C&C Produce reached out to Bob Carl, who already had 36 years in the produce business, to manage the new company. The company also brought in Tess Brensing, a recent graduate of Kansas State University in food science and industry, for quality assurance and food safety. Though C&C Produce and Cool Creations share the same property and many of the same customers, they operate out of facilities independent from each other.

Value-added fruit and vegetables are the core products processed by Cool Creations, offered in sliced and diced options and available in myriad container sizes. Vegetables include broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, onions, peppers, potatoes, radishes and tomatoes, while fruit is more limited to cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon and strawberries. Pico de gallo, yams, yellow squash, zucchini and stuffing mixes are also available in limited sizes.

But Cool Creations has found innovative ways to differentiate itself from competitors that goes beyond fresh-cut fruit and vegetables. The company offers a variety of party platters tailor-made for celebrations, like tailgate parties, that include fruit trays and pizzas, apple and cheese trays and bean dips, along with standard vegetable trays. Yogurt parfaits are available in a variety of flavors, including strawberry and granola mixed with blueberries, raspberries or mango. Cool Creations also offers stuffing kits and soups kits, like beef stew, offering consumers more value through convenience.

“Rather than your typical consumer buying a 10-pound bag of potatoes, they can by a meal kit with all the ingredients in it,” Carl said. “Your retail customer can go in, grab (the kit), throw it in the pot and cook it.”

Food Safety
Food safety is a concept both C&C Produce and Cool Creations take seriously. They work with third-party auditors to confirm compliance with food safety regulations, and each company is also actively involved in its own food safety practices and illness prevention programs. Each company cleans and sanitizes its processing rooms and equipment, along with post-testing to determine cleanliness once the process is finished. Raw produce and finished products are sent off for additional microbial testing, specifically searching for listeria, salmonella, E. coli, yeast and mold.

There is also a food safety recall plan in place for a worst-case scenario.

“We have a computer system that monitors where all merchandise and produce comes in and where we ship it, so if there was ever a need to recall it, we could track it,” Brensing said.

Future Growth
As the company experiences further growth they hope to move in new directions. That includes adding more foodservice customers to its growing list of buyers and increasing a presence in many retail outlets, specifically by increasing salad bars offerings in grocery store produce departments to enhance value and convenience options for consumers.

But the main focus will remain on their retail customers, who have helped lead the company in new directions through a willingness to test new products, as well as lending potential product ideas that may appeal to consumers.

“We have a good rapport with (our retailers), and they come to us with new and different ideas they want to try,” Conforti said. “Some of the items aren’t successful, but the items that are successful, we continue with them.”

Even as the company continues to grow, the staff is cautious to keep from growing too fast. The company must continue servicing their retail customers even as it reaches out to new customers, Carl said.

“My personal opinion is you have to have controlled growth – you have to keep quality and service at a high level,” Carl said.

As for focusing on retailers, it makes sense for the company – retailers have always been their biggest success.

“It is a continuation of the retail end of the industry. We are already in the grocery store aisles with the cut fruits, so it’s already there,” Carl said.

— By Everett Brazil III, Fresh Cut Contributor

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