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Church Bros. Farms big on product development

chrcheChurch Bros. Farms is a vertically integrated family-owned and operated company that produces a full line of fresh vegetables year-round with an in-house farming/harvest program and state-of-the-art processing plant, True Leaf Farms.

“We were seeing strong growth prior to COVID-19 and were planning for that to accelerate in the back half of the year,” said Rick Russo, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “Our broad exposure to the foodservice sector hit us hard early in the crisis, but we saw a steady recovery in the sector through June. That, along with new opportunities, had us back to 100 percent of pre-COVID-19 revenue, and poised to be back in growth mode. The recent pullback in opening up business in so many states has been a setback of late and we’ll see where that takes us, but we will continue to adapt as needed.”

Even with COVID-19, there’s a lot going on at the Salinas, CA-based company in 2020.

“We have spent considerable effort this year in new product development,” Russo said. “While foodservice has been, and will continue to be, a major part of our business, we do see a great opportunity to bring our strengths to the retail segment.”

After the acquisition of the Grower’s Express fresh veg operations, the company has set its sights on solidifying a unique lineup of value-added products for retail.

“We will be rolling out the fruits of that effort shortly, and continue through the next few months,” Russo said. “That said, we continue to evolve for foodservice. We launched our Tuscan Tender Leaves product in April, and recently launched our Stay Fresh iceless packs of Sweet Baby Broccoli and Sweet Baby Cauliflower, which deliver unbelievable quality and superior shelf life.”

Additionally, Church Bros. Farms is really hitting its stride with its production facility in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, which opened in 2019.  

“We currently process green onions, whole leaf, and broccoli in that facility but are looking at other potential products that would make sense based on the plant’s location,” Russo said.

While building a unique platform of value-added products for the retail channel is definitely a growth target for the company, on the foodservice side, it has put forth extra effort to make themselves the ultimate solution in one-stop-shopping via its broad product range, exceptional service levels, and logistics support.

Church Bros. Farms is rich in history, with initial exposure to the Salinas veg deal dating back 50 years.

“Putting customers’ needs first has been a driving force behind the company and is a primary reason why we have such a broad offering of products for customers to purchase, as well as a devotion to product development in order to keep providing our customers with innovative commodities,” Russo said. “A belief that quality and service can never be compromised is ingrained throughout every part of the organization, along with a can-do approach to every challenge.”

As it has been for many decades, the key at Church Bros. is to focus on the customer needs, focus on service, and staying open to new approaches of doing business, whether that be products, farming, harvesting or processing.

“We feel convenience and value will still be high targets for consumers, and value-added products that can be used in multiple applications will be of interest to foodservice operators as they keep labor to bare necessity through these tough times,” Russo said.

Logistics is important to the company, and it offers a full transportation company within Church Bros. that offers competitive rates for FTL or LTL deliveries to customers in many markets.

“We also offer consolidation buying for many items we don’t carry where a pickup is impossible,” Russo said. “With one phone call, we can provide any item you would need out of our shipping region and deliver it to you if necessary.”

Even before COVID-19, consolidation within the trucking industry, hours of service regulation, and a limited driver workforce were putting enormous pressure on receivers to reduce truck pickups to secure quality transportation and contain cost.

“With COVID-19, reducing the cycle time from order to delivery has never been more important as demand is less predictable, and just in time inventory is ever important,” Russo said. “We would like our customers to know that they can find a solution to their needs with us and that it’s our goal to save them time and money.”

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