Birds Eye tries fresh, not frozen

Birds Eye fresh vegetables?

That's right, and they could be coming to a supermarket near you if Dean Foods Vegetable Company, Green Bay, WI, is successful with its current test of fresh-cut vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The vegetables are processed and packaged by Dean Foods' joint venture partner, River Ranch, in Salinas, CA. Dean Foods, which owns the Birds Eye brand, will handle marketing. The vegetables are packaged from rollstock on a vertical f/f/s machine modified to punch a hole in the film prior to forming. Next, a special breathable p-s label dubbed FreshHold® is placed over the hole. The label acts as a membrane to control the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, slowing the respiration of the vegetables inside the bag. Shelf life is 17 days from the time of packaging, as long as temperatures are maintained slightly above freezing, according to David Anderson, Dean's director of marketing. The membrane itself, which River Ranch cryptically describes as a microporous plastic material, allows the packager to dial in respiration rates specific to each vegetable. There is nothing special about the film, which consists of a 1-mil oriented polypropylene laminated to 1.25-mil linear low-density polyethylene. It's flexo-printed in eight colors by Outlook Packaging (Oak Creek, WI). Both River Ranch and Dean Foods claim the FreshHold seal prolongs freshness better than breathable films or gas flushing. Other key advantages are the ability to package on f/f/s equipment, create an air-tight package, and use high-clarity film, according to Clem Richardson, vp of product services at River Ranch. River Ranch, which owns the rights to FreshHold, has been using the packaging for its own line of fresh vegetables for years, primarily in the Southeast. But "this will be the first time that it will be available on a known brand name with potentially nationwide distribution," says Dean Foods' Anderson. In test since June in Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, the Dallas area and parts of Alabama, vegetables are available singly or mixed in 8-oz bags that retail for between $1.39 to $1.69. Also sold is a 16-oz bag at $2.49 to $3.00.

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