When it comes to getting produce from the field to the fork, the only things consumers are concerned about are quality, safety and freshness. McEntire Produce has spent more than seven decades improving its processes and ensuring the produce it provides to customers is as fresh and safe as possible.

The company got its start when R.C. McEntire, Sr. founded it in 1938 as a tomato repacker in Columbia, S.C. Now employing approximately 400 people, it has remained a family-run produce business ever since. McEntire Produce has established itself based on quality, service, reliability and innovation.

Strong Variety
The company’s array of produce products includes fresh-cut, ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables, repacked bulk tomatoes in various sizes and a variety of wholesale commodity produce. In all, McEntire Produce has more than 700 products that are ordered, produced and delivered daily.

“We have the flexibility to move customers from wholesale to fresh cut and repack, and some customers go the other way from fresh cut to repack,” Senior Vice President Carter McEntire says. “We are here to help them find solutions to meet their needs and grow with our customers. We compete by being more reactive to customer needs than larger companies, which move slower and have more red tape. We have a fairly flat structure and can devise solutions faster.”

McEntire Produce has its own trucking fleet that allows it to focus on offering services and developing custom solutions for foodservice companies throughout the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. It also is capable of serving parts of the Southwest and Midwest.

“We are in a great position to be responsive and flexible, to test solutions faster, especially within our primary market area, which is about 600 miles around us,” says Mike Haygood, vice president of sales and marketing. “We can respond quickly, and because we have three large product segments, we can find many customers who buy and/or need all three segments.”

The company has several strengths that have allowed it to grow. Because of its fleet of trucks and refrigerated trailers, it can offer clients specialized customer service, taking orders from customers and delivering products to them within 24 hours.

Another strength is its state-of-the-art facility, which the company moved into in 2006. The 163,000-square-foot structure has capacity for future expansion. Since moving into this facility, McEntire Produce has expanded its variety and quantity of produce products. It is a secure and food-safe environment that provides employees with better working conditions and enhances operational efficiencies in ways that have allowed the company to be more competitive and set its sights on future growth opportunities.

“It is well-designed and maximizes our workflow, as we receive product on one side and then the process flows directly across the facility from receiving to shipping,” McEntire says.

Safe and Sound
A focus on food safety is also an area of strength for McEntire Produce. The company has a director of quality assurance monitoring quality, sanitation and food safety. The company has a quality assurance manager/microbiologist and a staff of 15 well-trained quality assurance and HACCP technicians to oversee food manufacturing methods.

The company follows good manufacturing practices and is HACCP-certified, and it works with only material suppliers that are known for leadership and compliance with recommended good agricultural practices. In addition, the company works with independent third parties that inspect and audit food safety and quality systems. McEntire Produce believes wholeheartedly in regular review of processes and products to help make sure that customer specifications are met, and that continuous improvement and innovation is part of its DNA as a company.

The new facility has allowed McEntire Produce to conduct test programs with several innovative wash systems. This is part of its continuous improvement culture for food safety.

“We use statistical process control charts to manage wash systems, food safety and the finished quality attributes of our products,” McEntire says.

Looking to the future, the company has broadened its product mix and altered its customer base. Whereas in the past the company’s customer portfolio was roughly split into thirds between repack, fresh cut and wholesale customers, it is now about 60 percent fresh cut, 10 to 15 percent wholesale and 20 to 25 percent repack.

“We’ve seen slight growth in overall sales of repack, but fresh cut has grown immensely as our customers ask for value added products and services,” Haygood says. “We are looking to broaden not only what we can provide our current base of business, but we’re also looking to expand in commercial and retail segments of the industry as well as develop other sales channels based on what we can offer.”