Oct 16, 2014
Fresh-cut celery a success for Duda Farm Fresh Foods

With the nickname the “Celery King,” it’s not surprising that Duda Farm Fresh Foods entered the fresh-cut market in a big way.

In 1997, the company – the world’s largest grower and processor of celery – began its fresh-cut program processing celery for the Campbell Soup Co. in Oxnard, California. The first order was for 26 1,200-pound bins of cut celery. Today, the company processes millions of pounds of fresh celery annually, and has added fresh-cut radishes to its product line.

Along the way, Duda Farm Fresh Foods – which invests 2 percent of its annual budget in research and development – developed innovative practices for processing fresh celery.

“In the beginning, we utilized segment cutters or knives to cut the celery,” said Susan Noritake, director of fresh-cut sales. “It took about 45 minutes to process one bin and it took three full days to complete the initial order.”

The need for more efficient methods became more urgent in 2001, when Duda began packing celery sticks for retail and foodservice markets, as well as its industrial customers. A year later, the company began using a water-jet cutter to cut its celery. The proprietary practice was groundbreaking for the industry. At that time, no other vegetable company was using that kind of technology to cut any type of vegetable, Noritake said.

Along with speed, using water-jet cutters provides a smoother cut, locks in freshness, keeps the celery crunchy and provides a longer shelf life, according to company officials. Switching to water-jet cutters slashed the processing time from 45 minutes to an average of four minutes.

The company’s fresh-cut celery is available as sticks, crescents or diced, and is marketed under the Dandy brand. Four- and 8-inch sticks are packaged for retail in a variety of weights, ranging from 8 ounces to 1.25 pounds. Duda also produces 4-ounce snack packs.

“We also do 2.5-pound club packs of 8-inch sticks,” Noritake said.

Foodservice offerings include diced, crescent-cut and sticks in 1-, 5- and 20-pound packages. Fresh-cut celery is sold to industrial users in 1,100-pound bins.

One of Duda’s latest entries is triple-washed, 7-inch celery straws. Available by special order, the celery straws are a foodservice item. The beverage straws, which are used on cruise ships, at resorts and in sporting arenas, are fully edible and provide customers with a healthy alternative to plastic, Noritake said.

“Our celery straws are the result of 15 years of plant research and cross breeding,” Noritake said. “We have an extensive breeding program that has produced our proprietary varieties.”

Duda’s fresh-cut program has expanded to include 1-pound packages of washed, trimmed and cut radishes, and mini-stick cut radishes in 4- and 8-ounce bags.

The family owned company has been growing celery for nearly 90 years. Headquartered in Oviedo, Florida, the company has a celery research facility in Salinas, California, and its fresh-cut facility in Oxnard, California. To meet the growing demand for fresh-cut products, the company opened a new plant in 2008 with double the capacity of its original fresh-cut facility. The new, 65,000-square-foot facility features 40,000 square feet of processing space and 25,000 square feet for its cooling operations.

Duda also has production and shipping operations in California and Florida, as well as in Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Michigan.

Duda, which markets fresh produce internationally, also partners with growers in Chile, Peru, Morocco, Spain and Mexico to meet year-round demand.

Company president Dan Duda said the company is not resting on its laurels and is continually working to meet the needs of consumers.

“Innovation has always been our mission, and consistent with our ongoing research we know what traits and attributes are most important to the consumer when it comes to the product and the way it is presented,” Duda said. “By developing and building distribution of snacking products and drawing additional attention to snacking celery, we are generating consumer awareness of celery as a healthy, everyday snack.”

The company is currently working on new products, Noritake said. They plan to introduce a new 5-pound foodservice pack of ready radishes by the end of the summer. The company is also working on fresh-cut products that meet the new guidelines for school lunch programs. That includes producing small celery sticks for children.

“We’ll be expanding our school offerings with a smaller stick,” Noritake said.

Terri Morgan

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