B&P Packing Company was between a rock and a hard place. On the one side was the city of Soledad, which wanted the processor to move from its downtown location to a 7-acre parcel outside of the downtown area that was being revitalized. On the other side also stood the city of Soledad, which enacted a building moratorium midway through B&P’s move, because unforeseen residential growth had put too much stress on the city’s sewer system.
Soledad, a “small, sleepy town” of about 27,000 (including the population of a local correctional facility), didn’t even have a big box store. But the community has been experiencing about 8 percent growth for the last five years, mostly in residential housing. According to U.S. census information, the population of the central California town more than doubled between 2000 and 2005. Its proximity to Salinas (25 miles), King City (20 miles) and Monterey (40 miles) is transforming Soledad into a bedroom community – but that growth caught city planners by surprise.
It was that growth that prompted city leaders to encourage B&P’s move to a nearby industrial park, but as housing developments sprang up, Soledad’s water and sewer infrastructure were severely tested. So a moratorium was placed on all building – even residential building.
B&P, and its California Fresh Cuts division, dumped about 30,000 gallons of water into the city’s sewers -– 1 percent of the system’s capacity. B&P uses water, of course, but recycles and reuses as much of it as possible. The plant Bigiogni was proposing in the new location would dump the same amount, but city planners still wouldn’t let the company build – even though at 95 employees it was one of the largest employers in the town.
It took nearly seven months to even get on the city commission’s agenda, and that was after seven weeks of calling each commissioner before one responded to him, Bigiogni said.
So for nearly two years, B&P was stuck in limbo, said Bob Bigiogni, president of B&P, with the city telling him “you can’t go and you can’t stay.” The company was stuck midway through a move, unable to tell key accounts where the company would be next year.
History in Soledad
Bigiogni’s dad, Art, and his business partner Joe Panziera started B&P in 1964. Both men were carrot growers who were looking for a way to market and distribute their product. When Panziera died in the mid-1970’s, his family sold their share of the business to Art cut continued to grow continues, and are still one of B&P’s largest suppliers, Bigiogni said.
The company had been focusing on its line of whole carrots, and for many years was the sole supplier for Fresh Express. B&P also supplied Gerber, Del Monte, Heinz and Campbell’s with carrots for canning and freezing – large, fat carrots that are excellent for dicing, Bigiogni said. But in 1995, Fresh Express switched to cut carrots rather than the whole, so B&P branched out into cutting and peeling whole carrots. In 1996 Bigiogni started California Fresh Cut to process baby carrots, which are grown long and cut and peeled by the company. The fresh-cut subsidiary processed baby carrots for the retail market, packaged in 1, 2 and 5 pound bags. They were in that market until 2005, when the city of Soledad forced the company to move, then stalled it partway through.
After two years of going back and forth with city commissioners and finding the company in limbo, Bigiogni decided to evaluate the processor’s core competencies and focus on the most profitable area of the business. The salad industry was still growing, so he began to move away from baby carrots and more toward the cut-and-peeled fresh market. The baby carrot market is a competitive one, so B&P focused on larger carrots, a niche that Bigiogni fills with 4 inch and 2 inch cut and peeled carrots.
“I think there’s a real need for carrots in the salad industry. I think we can fill that niche,” Bigiogni said.
B&P finally was allowed to build a new facility, although it was smaller than Bigiogni originally wanted. The 11,000 square foot facility is used as processing space and cooling for the company’s carrots. Bigiogni closed the California Fresh Cuts division in 2005, a result of the city’s inaction in working with him. About 40 employees were laid off, although some positions have been added since then.
The other buildings in Bigiogni’s industrial-park acreage have gone through food safety updates over the last two years to the tune of $250,000. The walls and ceilings have been replaced with scrubbable materials and the exterior walls have been replaced and all the equipment is easy to clean.
“Everything’s either plastic or stainless,” Bigiogni said.
Even the parking lots were repaved, not only to prevent dust and debris from the cracked asphalt, but also to give visitors the impression that his company cares about its appearance.
Bigiogni said he’s watched other processors sit back and not update their food safety practices, but with the recent outbreak he thinks B&P is ahead of the curve because buyers are looking for processors that have made investments in food safety.
“Our theory at this point is if they’re not looking for those things today, they will be tomorrow,” he said.
Now that B&P Packing has identified where it wants to be in the market – fresh-cut large carrots for salad processors – Bigiogni is looking for customers to expand the operation. The plant processes carrots year-round, but is only at 100 percent capacity two of those months. The rest of the year, Bigiogni said the facility operates at about 50 percent capacity, so there’s room to grow. And he’s looking at the foodservice industry as a market to branch into. Foodservice customers want the convenience and safety of fresh-cut carrots and salads, he said.
B&P’s fight with the city of Soledad didn’t win him any friends on the city council, but Bigiogni’s looking at the bigger picture. The city may want that residential base, and those big box stores, but it shouldn’t gain them at the expense of jobs and businesses that are already there.
Water is already a fight in many communities, and discharge into city sewers is an added concern in communities experiencing growth. As houses spring up in previously undeveloped areas, in and around farmland, many towns are unprepared for the consequences. As processors look to the future, they may have to look closely at the communities they are in and prepare for a fight, as B&P Packing found out.