CSS Farms started in 2007 growing baby (also called creamer or C-size) potatoes for a niche market of fans (primarily restaurants) who valued the smaller size.
In 2010, CSS Farms and RPE Inc. united in a partnership to form Tasteful Selections (www.tastefulselections.com). The baby potatoes fill a niche market for retail and food service customers.
Tasteful Selections’ first packing facility was leased in Bakersfield, Calif. When annual sales started growing by double digits, it became apparent the company needed a much larger facility of its own. So in 2013, Tasteful Selections broke ground on a 200,000-sq.-ft. building in Arvin, Calif.
- Washing equipment that is 50 percent more water-efficient
- A cooling system that uses food-grade glycol instead of ammonia in work areas (moreso for employee safety).
- High R-value insulation against 100-degree and higher summer heat.
- LED lights
- Variable-frequency drives on all motors.
- Reducing the propane used by forklifts through an efficient workflow design.
- Waterless urinals, motion sensors on sinks and no paper towels in the restrooms.
The plant grades and stores the potatoes, then washes and dries them, and finally packs them for distribution. Back in 2010, Tasteful Selections only made 50-lb. cartons exclusively for foodservice. With the new plant, the company now makes 10- and 20-lb. cartons for foodservice, 1-5-lb. packs for retail (under its own brand) and even 5-oz. "single-serve" bags.
Tasteful Selections also was mindful of the environment, as well as the occasional droughts that complicated agriculture and many other businesses in California. And potato-washing is a big user of water. This concern became a big factor in designing the new plant.
"We really strived to design a building that could help our business save energy and recycle in every aspect," says Bender.
The plant that opened in March especially takes the washing portion of the process to new levels of efficiency. "Europe grows smaller potatoes and also seems more advanced with water use, so we went looking there for potato washing equipment," Bender continues. He found a U.K. company with a system that floats the potatoes in water, then reuses that water all day (with some filtering, disinfecting and fresh water being added). The water that cannot be recirculated is used for landscaping and dust control.
Another feature is the use of glycol instead of ammonia in work areas. It's not an environmental issue, but one chosen out of concern for the safety of the company's employees. An ammonia leak can be fatal to workers in that area. Ammonia is still used in the machine room and condensers.
All these things were worked into the design phase of the new facility. Bender acknowledges that planning this level of sustainability was made easier because this was a greenfield project.
One large energy-saving attribute was the installation of variable frequency drives (VFDs) on more than 400 motors. “The VFD’s start the motors slowly and run them at the minimal speed needed for the process and throughput," he says.
All those potatoes dirty a lot of bins, about 1,000 a day. So the company contracted Exeter Engineering to design and build an efficient bin-washing system.
The plant has achieved a CalGreen certification, a state initiative Bender likens to the Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. In fact, the plant was designed to LEED guidelines, and the Benders hope to get that certification in the future.
And they're not done yet.
In the next 30 days, Tasteful Selections will implement a process to bring even more of what is now potato wastewater back into the process. The building's roof was designed for solar panels, for which Bender is now seeking bids. "We are hoping to have solar panels by next year," he proclaims.
Also built-in is the possibility to use natural gas for cogeneration. Electric car charging stations are in the plans, too.
So are higher-value product line extensions. Bender says having such an efficient plant will enable Tasteful Selections to grow even more.