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Pride Pak has been innovator in processing vegetables

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 1 December 2016 at 8:12 am

‘Everyone is tired of the same old iceberg lettuce’ – Steven Karr, CEO of Pride Pak

Photos by Tom Rivers: Steven Karr, CEO of Pride Pak, gives a tour of the 68,000-square-foot site in Medina. This is the Canada-based company’s third processing site, and first in the United States.

Photos by Tom Rivers: Steven Karr, CEO of Pride Pak, gives a tour of the 68,000-square-foot site in Medina. This is the Canada-based company’s third processing site, and first in the United States.

MEDINA – Steven Karr, CEO of Pride Pak, says his business has always been about delivering on a promise.

The new 68,000-square-foot facility in Medina, staffed with 40 employees trimming lettuce and packaging it for salads for Wegmans, meets a commitment he made to the popular grocery chain based in Rochester.

Pride Pak is on a site that was a vacant field in January. The company and local governments pushed to have the site ready on an aggressive schedule. In addition to the 280-foot-long building, the site has a new road, water and sewer infrastructure, and other utilities.

“It’s about delivering what we talked about,” Karr, the Pride Pak CEO, told about 300 people during a ribbon-cutting and opening celebration.

For 35 years, Karr has been in the vegetable processing business. Karr has made a commitment to excellence and honoring contracts top priorities.

Medina gives the company a U.S. site. Pride Pak also has facilities in Mississaugua and Newfoundland. It is the largest vegetable processor in Canada, and 35 percent of its produce comes to the U.S.

Wegmans is a major U.S. customer. Sometimes, in big snowstorms, it can be challenging to get trucks from Canada through WNY to Wegmans. Pride Pak has taken big detours around a snowstorm, sometimes driving to Detroit or around Lake Ontario to get trucks through to serve customers in WNY. Karr said waiting out a storm out isn’t an option. The company will meet its obligations to customers.

Pride Pak currently gets its lettuce, baby spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, turnips, carrots and other vegetables from Yuma in Arizona, California and Oregon. Karr said the company wants to work with local growers in WNY.

David Corsi, vice president of produce and floral operations, praised the Karr family and Pride Pak for a commitment to excellence.

David Corsi, Wegmans vice president of produce and floral operations, praised the Karr family and Pride Pak for a commitment to excellence.

Wegmans is “ecstatic” with the new Pride Pak facility in Medina, said David Corsi, the company’s vice president of produce and floral operations. The site is closer to Wegmans distribution hub in Rochester, ensuring a fresher product, and a smaller carbon footprint, Corsi said.

He praised Karr, his three children that work for the company, and the Pride Pak company for innovations with making salad much more attractive to consumers. A generation ago, people could buy heads of iceberg lettuce at the grocery store. Karr and Pride Pak trim the lettuce, and mix in baby spinach, thinly sliced red cabbage, and other vegetables. Pride Pak has several mixes and is always experimenting.

“For 22 years they have been supplying us with a stellar product,” Corsi said during Wednesday’s opening celebration.

Karr has 35 years in the processing business. He began innovating with salads after delivering vegetables to a Holiday Inn in Toronto. Karr said the chef at the Holiday Inn had to have 1,500 to 2,000 meals ready all at once. The chef told him the salads were a challenge. The lettuce wasn’t always consistent and there could be a lot of waste and trimming because of the outer leaves.

Karr decided to make it easier for the chef. Karr trimmed and chopped the lettuce, putting it in 50-pound bags. That eliminated some steps for the chef, and gave him an accurate count of the product. Other customers, including McDonalds, took notice and wanted the lettuce.

Pride Pak expects it can have harvested lettuce from Arizona and California to Wegmans in salad mixes within 48 hours of it coming from the fields. The Medina site cuts about 24 hours the time from field to grocery store because trucks don’t have to cross the border and make the trip to Mississagua.

Karr sees a growing demand for the salads.

“People are more health conscious,” he said. “They want more varieties. Everyone is tired of the same old iceberg lettuce.”

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