Tasteful Selections Opens Cal Green Potato Facility in Arvin, CA
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Associate Editor
Bob Bender, a partner with CSS Farms, in Watertown, South Dakota, came out to Kern County several years ago to grow many different crops including chip potatoes, garlic, onions and bell peppers, as well as black-eyed peas. “We were looking for an opportunity in California to diversify our company so that we were not so dependent on the chip potato income.”
Bender said he was always looking for crops in which he could diversify, and in 2007, he had the opportunity to grow some baby, bite-sized potatoes for a Canadian company. “This worked out well for a few years, and then we decided in 2009 to pack the baby potatoes under our own CSS Farms label,” Bender said.
“That business started taking off a lot bigger than we expected, and in 2010, we saw that the business was growing to be too much for us to handle. We needed some marketing help because we did not know much about it,” said Bender. “Plus, we were packing everything in 50-pound cartons, and we knew there would have to be more margin to the product if we sold directly to retail.
Bob Bender, Tasteful Selections
“That’s when we teamed up with the Wysocki family, owners of the Bancroft, Wisconsin-based RPE Company and experts in packing and marketing,” said Bender. “The marketing took off, and they built our first packing shed in a leased facility in Bakersfield. They sold product in smaller mesh bags for the consumer retail market under the Tasteful Selection brand,” noted Bender, who is now president and general manager of Tasteful Selections.”
Fast forward to March. 18, 2015 when CSS, along with RPE, and Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based Plover River Farms Alliance, Inc. partnered together and opened a new, stainless steel, 200,000 square foot facility in Arvin, near Bakersfield—all dedicated to Tasteful Selections specialty potatoes.
The expansion increases Tasteful Selections’ production capacity from eight to 12 packaging lines, doubles the potato washing capacity and adds more shipping docks and improved refrigeration and storage to meet the company’s double digit growth (over the past five years), leading the specialty potato category.
In all, the company sells eight flavors of potatoes in one-, two- or three-bite sizes, plus offers a medley of flavors in each bite size. The potatoes have unique flavors, creamy textures and tender skins. The products are pre-washed, so consumers do not have to clean or peel the product. And the small sizes equate to faster cooking times.
“Fifty percent of our team is marketing, so we’re not just growing and packing the potatoes. RPE handles all of our marketing and sales, which has been so instrumental in our growth,” said Bender, who now oversees the day-to-day operations in California. RPE has been a tremendous asset to Tasteful Selections; the fact that we are in all fifty states, in 52 percent of all grocery stores, with growth in every store, says a lot about RPE,” Bender noted.
The fact that the facility was built with all stainless steel components is an invaluable addition to our operations and food safety protocols. The facility’s design honors Cal Green Certification Standards. The Cal Green Certification ensures that we are maximizing our efficiency while reducing our environmental impact. Not only does this benefit us, it also helps the surrounding communities in promoting water savings, environmental responsibility, cost effectiveness and a healthier place to live and work for its currently 257 employees.
Milt Carter is CEO and President of CSS Farms, which grows all the potatoes for Tasteful Selections. “We are co-owner of the company, along with RPE, and the grand opening of our facility is a big day for us as we continue our journey to bring unique potatoes to the potato category and to the table,” said Carter.
“We particularly like the qualities of our baby potatoes, including unique flavors and better taste than the average potato. The uniform sizes we pack allow for uniform cooking times, making cooking easier for the consumer. And the growth we have seen reflects that consumers really like them.”
“When we started Tasteful Selections in 2010, we knew we had something amazing, and even we were surprised by the success that we had,” said Russell Wysocki, President and CEO of RPE. “The opening of this new plant shows that we are consistently investing in our future in specialty potatoes,” he said.
“The new plant will allow us to bring in new product lines, do a better job in precise-sizing, and maintain our high quality standard,” noted Wysocki. “On the farm, Bob and Milt bring us five separate crops a year; we have the ability to deliver the freshest potatoes with the best quality to our customers throughout the country and throughout the season.”
“The one-, two- or three-bite Tasteful Sections potatoes in the one pound or 1.5 pound bag are very popular with consumers.” said Wysocki. “It use to be that you would sell a lot of potatoes in a 10-pound bag, but that’s getting a lot harder to do. However, this product offers consumers a package from which they can get multiple meals, without taking five weeks to consume and perhaps resorting to the garbage can to get rid of them.”
“The baby potatoes are immature potatoes, before they grow bigger, but they still contain all the nutrients found in the larger potatoes,” said Wysocki.
Carter explained, “Our signature flavor Honey Gold baby potatoes are proprietary to Tasteful Selections, and they have a very unique flavor. A high percentage of people the taste distinctive in taste tests, and most like it very much.”
“It’s a great product,” noted Wysocki. “We basically took product that was being discarded in the market 10 years ago. We saw the quality of what was culled, and we felt it was something significant we could bring to the marketplace. So we considered the possibility, then brought it to market, and we have had phenomenal growth,” he said.