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Organic fruits and vegetable products: now they're coming out in frozen form.

Organic Fruits and Vegetable Products: Now They're Coming Out in Frozen Form

Frozen organic fruits and vegetables? They may not jump out of the cabinets like pasta-vegetable blends or stir-fry vegetables but, hey, they are a new development.

Cascadian Farm, Concrete, Wash., USA, has recently launched a line of organic frozen fruits and vegetables that includes whole kernel corn, garden peas, hand-cut broccoli, carrots, cut green beans, French fries (without oil), Southern style hash browns, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Organic product is nothing new, but it has traditionally been sold only fresh, and been hard to find at that. Freezing offers at least the possibility of wider distribution. Thus far, the line is carried by specialty gourmet chains rather than supermarkets; there are also some bulk exports to Europe.

Cascadian grows its own produce, and also sources from other organic farms along the Skagit River in the Cascade Range. Its products are certified by the Washington Department of Agriculture's Organic Food Certification Program, or by organic farmers' organizations in Oregon, Michigan and the Missouri Ozarks.

It's hard to do anything with frozen vegetables that hasn't been done before. We've had vegetables in sauce, vegetable mixes, instant salads and single-serve vegetables as well as pasta-vegetable blends. Fatigue may be setting in on the marketplace: pasta-vegetable blends, for example, haven't done well enough to inspire widespread private label versions, and breaded vegetables have actually lost ground.

Still, they keep trying. Ore-Ida Foods, Boise, Idaho, USA, has come out with Vegetable Primavera topped baked potatoes. That's right, instead of just a sauce, the company is topping the potatoes with a blend of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and onions in a sauce of Parmesan and Monterey Jack cheeses. It's microwaveable, of course, and to help push the introduction, Ore-Ida has included an on-pack coupon good for 20 cents off on either topped baked potatoes or twice baked potatoes.

(Speaking of potatoes, the Idaho Potato Board is sponsoring a witty radio campaign promoting baked potatoes, in which a would-be "inventor" of microwave baked potatoes tries to interest the patent office and a bank. People are already microwaving potatoes, the banker tells him; "What do they need you for?" "They've got home banking and automatic tellers, too," the inventor says. "What do they need you for?")

Vegetable entrees are one new wrinkle on the US market. Pillsbury, Minneapolis, Minn., recently launched a Tortellini Provencale, billed as the "Perfect Light Entree" at under 250 calories. Part of the Green Giant Garden Gourmet line, it includes zucchini, cheese tortellini, and carrots in a garlic tomato sauce, and weighs in at 9.5 ounces (269 grams). One inconvenience: it can be microwaved in its own tray, but must be removed from that tray for heating in a conventional oven.

Elsewhere, processors are catching up with the US in introducing basic added value products to new markets. Fripur AV, Montevideo, Uruguay, for example, has come out with spinach in white sauce and asparagus in white sauce, both microwaveable -- but in a dish, not in the original box, as with both branded and private label vegetables already widely available on the US market. In Europe, where basic commodity vegetables long reigned supreme (and may again, in developing markets like eastern Germany and beyond), consumers are gaining a taste for more adventurous fare, and processors are ready to offer it.

In Germany, for example, Rich. Hengstenberg GmbH & Co., Esslingen, is coming out with such products as Mexican salad (with kidney beans, paprika and corn), vegetable croquettes and Italian-style vegetable pots (very much like the pasta-vegetable blends on the other side of the Atlantic). Hengstenberg is a relative newcomer to the frozen food industry -- originally specializing in canned and bottled products like sauerkraut, vinegar, tomato sauce, mustard and salad dressing, it began freezing vegetables only two years ago.

Four brands are now being produced: Gourmessa, an upscale line; Fitessa and Salatbuffet (Salad Buffet) for more health-conscious consumers; and Gemuse Paradies (Vegetable Paradise), premium vegetables in polybags. Under the Fitessa banner are items like cauliflower cheese medallions, leaf spinach bratlings, broccoli torts and pockets and leek cuts (whole wheat or polenta). Salad Buffet includes herdsmen's salad and China mix. Gourmessa covers Szeged (a town in Hungary) style goulash, broccoli gratin, sauerkraut souffle, chili con carne, bean tureen, China pan, sesame vegetable pan and butter vegetables, while Gemuse Pardies is mostly fancy-grade single vegetables, but with a couple of blends: Kaiser vegetables and risotto exquisite.

Tendafrost Offerings

In Britain, meanwhile, Tendafrost Frozen Foods, Spalding, has come out with a couple of new items: button sprouts and chestnuts, and British bean sprouts. The chestnuts in the first are sweet, not horse chestnuts. Button sprouts and sweet chestnuts can be boiled in slightly salted water or microwaved. British bean sprouts can be boiled or stir fried, and are grown exclusively for Tendafrost (It is the first time bean sprouts have been available by themselves, rather than in mixes).

Individually quick frozen vegetables in retail packs may be old hat in the United States, but they're new to New Zealand, where Talley's Fisheries Ltd., Port Motueka, has branched out into the vegetable category with items like premium asparagus spears. The IQF spears come in 225-gram packs.

Chinese Vegetable Processor Develops European Exports

It may not seem like a lot, but it's a sign of growth: a Guangzhou-based frozen vegetable processor exported 3,000 tons to Europe last year, vs. only 1,000 in 1988 and 1989.

Germany is a good market for some products, according to Wang Xiao Jiang of Guangzhou Cereals, Oil and Foodstuffs Import and Export Corp. Vegetable Co., which boasts the largest operation of its kind in China.

Products include mainly green beans (Chinese and French types), pea pods, asparagus, peas, water chestnuts, baby corn and broccoli. Organized as a cooperative, with workers sharing in the profits, the company has 100 people working at the plant and 60 more in the fields.

The corporation has been selling fresh vegetables to Hong Kong for 30 years, but got into the frozen business relatively recently, with exports to Europe being launched in 1987. Europe accounts for 80% of the export trade, with most of the rest going to Japan. To streamline the business side of the operation, the parent corporation's vegetable export division was merged with its refrigeration plant in 1988 to form the Vegetable Company.

Some 27.25 million RMB has been invested in the company, including $4.2 million for imported technology. This includes four freezing lines -- two IQF, two contact -- with capacities of 1.2 and two tons an hour each, respectively. Frigoscandia supplied the lines, and Bally provided two storage freezers with a combined capacity of 3,000 tons. Blanching was done by hand for the first two years, until the company was able to source blanchers in Australia.

A second plant was established recently in Guangzhou's Conghua County to supplement the one in the provincial capital. With access to a better water and power supply, it is scheduled to begin producing frozen fruits and vegetables in June. Insufficient power has held back production at the main plant, Jiang says, despite increasing demand for frozen products (the 3,000 ton-figure for last year does not include frozen fruits, only the vegetables).

Farms supplying the Vegetable Company total about 3,300 acres, scattered through Yangshan, Qingxian, Conghua and other counties, where different altitudes (and therefore different temperatures) allow the raising of seasonal products year-round. Exports are handled either by direct sale, or through middlemen in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The company can print custom-packaging in China for overseas customers, as it has already done for Swiss and Danish accounts -- all the client has to do is supply the artwork.

PHOTO : Organic French fries? You got it -- from Cascadian Farms, an organic produce processor in Concrete (hardly an organic name!), Washington, USA.

PHOTO : Vegetable Primavera is a real innovation in topped baked potatoes from Ore-Ida Foods, Boise, Idaho.

PHOTO : Green Giant goes from vegetables (single or blended) to full-fledged vegetarian entrees with Tortellini Provencale.

PHOTO : It's Talley Ho in New Zealand, as frozen fish company pioneers the IQF vegetable market.

PHOTO : From Uruguay, comes Asparagus in White Sauce by Fripur, based in Montivideo, which also has a Spinach in White Sauce offering.

PHOTO : Making garlic paste at a plant in Guangzhou, China.
COPYRIGHT 1991 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Annual QFFI Survey
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:Don't let drought scares fool you, it's vegetable business as usual.
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