Florida Specialties

June 25, 2010

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Florida Specialties is taking a chance on green beans. That isn’t to say that the South Florida grower and packer has never produced them – they are the company’s primary crop. But they are trying green beans in a new way, packaged for the value-added market, a market the company hasn’t previously explored.

“We chose to go into packaged green beans because we felt it was a natural progression for our company,” said Chris Todonato, sales manager for Florida Specialties.

“The way the industry trends are headed, we felt this is the direction a lot of customers want to go, mostly due to convenience.”

The beans are being marketed under the name, Blue Ribbon, and while there is no real meaning behind the packaging or name, both were designed to catch the attention of consumers at retail outlets, featuring eye-catching blue bands across the top and bottom of the otherwise clear packaging. The center features a blue ribbon, the trademarked logo of the new green beans.

“There is nothing unique about the packaging, but you always want to design the packaging to standout,” Tordonato said.

To design the packaging that stands out, Florida Specialties turned to an independent graphic design team in Florida known for working with value-added packaging companies. It was a collaboration between the graphic design team and Florida Specialties, specifically the company’s owner, president and sales team. The packaging finished its design phase in December, and the product was unveiled before the produce industry at the Southeast Produce Council’s expo, Southern Exposure, in March.

The company brought in new packaging equipment for the green beans, going live in early April. A successful test run was performed April 9, and the green beans were released to food service and retail later in the month, just in time to meet changing market demands.
“The general market today is 10 oz. and 12 oz. sizes, easily packaged for a family of four,” said Jeff Stepanovich, sales representative for Florida Specialties.

To accommodate that market potential, the beans will be offered in three sizes: 12 oz., 2-lb. and 5-lb. packages. The 12 oz packages will be marketed to retail, while the 5 lb packages will be marketed primarily to food service. However, the 12 oz packages will be available for food service and retail.

Company representatives are optimistic about the market for the new packages.

“I think it will be a big hit, because people want the convenience of these packages, and there’ll be more of a demand for them,” Tordonato said.

“It is more for the convenience, for the busy lifestyles we lead. It is something that’s quick and healthy.”

Green beans have been a staple for Florida Specialties since the company’s inception in Homestead, in 1986. Headquarters were eventually relocated to Immokalee, where today, the green bean acreages comprise three quarters of the farm’s production, with eggplant and peppers rounding out most of the remaining quarter of the farm’s 2,000-acre southern Florida operation.

The grower and packer doesn’t grow any specific variety of green beans, but chooses proven varieties over riskier ones. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in trying new varieties.

“We like to stay with proven varieties, but we also aren’t afraid to test new varieties to see how they work out,” Tordonato said.”

“We’ don’t grow specific varieties – the seeds are changing rapidly, and they differ from year to year.”

The remaining 500 acres are devoted to eggplant and peppers, including bell peppers, jalapenos, cubanelles and poblanos, but they have also produced squash and cantaloupe through the years. Their produce line is marketed fresh through retail and food service outlets. Green beans are offered in bushel-sized boxes, while peppers are marketing in 1 1/9-bushel boxes.

Green beans were chosen for the value-added market over other company commodities because of their popularity, but also because there is a much larger market for value-added, processed green beans over peppers or eggplant. There isn’t much of a market for processed peppers or eggplants. But green beans were also chosen because they dominate the farms acres.

The value-added packages afford the company the opportunity to diversify production while retaining quality control over the product.

“This creates another outlet for our beans, and we can take greater control with our product,” Tordonato said.

Florida Specialties doesn’t currently have any plans to expand into other value-added markets in the next few years, but they are open to the possibility, as consumer demands can easily change, and it’s those consumer demands that help dictate where the company chooses to turn next.

“The future is a case-by-case basis. As consumer demands change, we’ll change with them,” Tordonato said.

-By Everett Brazil III





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