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Prepack salad companies gearing up to produce 4 mill lbs a week

March 21, 2001

Prepack salad companies gearing up to produce 4 mill lbs a week



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


Two local companies - Fresh Express and Taylor Farms - are putting the green in Greencastle.

Fresh Express Mid Atlantic, which moved into its plant at 104 Commerce Ave. in 1992, and Taylor Farms Northeast Region, which opened March 14 in a leased plant at 255 North Carlisle St., prepackage garden salads.

Once Taylor Farms gets into full production, about 4 million pounds of bagged salads will leave both plants each week, according to officials of both companies.

Fresh Express employs about 320 workers and is looking for another 40 due to increased business, said Barbara Hines, a company spokeswoman in Dallas, Tex. Alex Tsetsilas, purchasing manager for Taylor Farms, said his company currently employs about 30 workers and expects to hire another 170 in the next nine months when the Carlisle Street plant goes into full production.

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Fresh Express and Taylor Farms have their corporate headquarters in Salinas, Calif., in the heart of the nation's lettuce-growing region.

Fresh lettuce, carrots, onions, peppers, celery, cabbage, spinach - the ingredients of salads - have to be kept cold to be kept fresh. Temperatures in both plants hover around 35 degrees, Tsetsilas said. Workers who want them are provided with insulated coveralls, he said.

Tsetsilas describes the production process as a "cold chain." Varieties of lettuce and other vegetables arrive at the plant daily by refrigerated trucks and are unloaded onto refrigerated docks. From there they travel on assembly lines where machines core, peel, cut up, slice or dice them into bite-size pieces. The vegetables go through several washings before bagging and are ready to eat when they arrive in the home, restaurant or food service facility, Tsetsilas said.

All of the equipment is cleaned and sanitized at the end of each shift, he said. Not only do the plants endure inspections by state and local health inspectors, wholesale distributors who are their main customers often insist on inspecting the plants before buying their products, he said.

Taylor Farms leases 45,000 square feet of office and plant space in a renovated building that was severely damaged by fire in January 2000. The building housed Vision Warehouse at the time of the fire. Tsetsilas said Taylor Farms installed its own production equipment.

Tsetsilas said Taylor Farms' closest plant is in Atlanta, Ga. The company opened the Greencastle plant to be closer to mid-Atlantic and Northeast markets, he said. The Greencastle plant will sell to distributors as far north as Portland, Me., south to Richmond, Va., east to the Washington/Baltimore area and west to Pittsburgh, Pa., he said.

"The key thing here is that we are not in competition with Fresh Express. They supply grocery stores and we supply the food service industry," Tsetsilas said.

Taylor Farms' Greencastle plant will be run by Tsetsilas, General Manager Cal Morris and John Iser, the operations manager.

All three worked for Fresh Express. Morris started at Fresh Express as general manager in 1992, Tsetsilas said.

He later left the business to buy Casey's, a bar and restaurant in Greencastle, which he has since renovated and expanded. Officials at Taylor Farms asked him to help start up the new Greencastle plan, Tsetsilas said.

According to information supplied by Hines, Fresh Express invented retail packaged salad in 1989. Today packaging fresh salads is a $1.6 billion industry. Fresh Express has five processing plants around the country, employs 2,800 workers and reports annual sales of $500 million.

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