Just Add Protein
Where’s the meat?
For Del Monte Fresh Produce, it’s in a new USDA-certified production facility adjacent to the company’s current Dallas distribution center and fresh-cut operations.
“We currently produce single-serve fruits and vegetables, but our product line did not include protein salads and snacks,” said Dionysios Christou, Del Monte Fresh Produce vice president of marketing. “With the new USDA-certified facility, we are able to expand our line to include complete salad bowls and snacks and further our fresh-cut product capacities to provide a larger variety of fresh-cut items and blends.”
The new facility is already up and running. New products include complete-meal single-serve salad bowls and fresh fruit and protein snack packs under the Nature Made brand. Ranging in size from 6.15 oz. to 8 oz., they’ll retail for around $3.99.
The salad bowl options, made with fresh-cut fruits and vegetables, include a Caesar salad with white chicken and a turkey and bacon Cobb salad, among others.
New snack products include fresh fruit and protein combinations such as a turkey and Swiss snack pack with red grapes, red apple slices, turkey slices, Swiss cheese and crackers. A turkey sausage links and pancakes pack includes grapes, buttermilk pancakes, apples, turkey breakfast sausage and syrup.
“Our focus is on the on-the-go consumer seeking a convenient, healthy, and complete meal,” Christou said in a press release. “As one of the largest fresh-cut suppliers, expanding our product line to include salads and snacks for the on-the-go consumer was a logical move.”
New state-of-the-art equipment made it possible for the company to increase production of bagged, single-serve fresh-cut fruit and vegetables, too.
“The new facility has equipment that will maximize the quality and shelf life of the products, while keeping our efficiencies high,” Christou said. “The bagged single-serve items are great for all channels, specifically schools, foodservice outlets, convenience stores, and even to use as part of multipacks in club and traditional retail stores.
“It is not a new product (line), but new equipment has allowed us to be more efficient in production.”
The new items are initially slated for distribution in the south-central and midwestern United States, with plans for expansion into other markets.
“This allows us to have a complete line of grab-and-go, ready-to-eat products out of our Dallas facility,” he said.
A Growing Niche
Jeffrey S. Brandenburg of the Massachusetts-based JSB Group said more fresh-cut operations are getting into producing complete meals with meat, produce and carbohydrates. Specializing in modified atmosphere packaging design, postharvest physiology and food safety, Brandenburg said his firm works with companies overseas and in the United States and saw the marriage of protein with fresh cut in Europe long before it began to surface here.
“When I started doing package design in Europe in 2003, they were already doing this,” Brandenburg said. “We had been sort of playing around with that for a while here in the U.S., but it hadn’t picked up speed until recently.”
Why? In Europe, one regulatory body oversees production whether it’s meat, cheese or produce. Not so in the United States, where USDA governs meat production and FDA oversees fresh-cut processing.
“In Europe they’ve been able to do it much more readily than we have,” he said.
Shelf life is also a factor with the introduction of meat, and that’s where the right packaging is essential.
“There are packaging challenges, distribution challenges, cold chain management challenges, and they all have to come together to get that shelf life,” Brandenburg said. “A number of different things have delayed or made it more difficult to implement (complete meals) in the United States and North America. Having said that, it’s continuing to grow.”
— By Kathy Gibbons, contributing writer