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Innovation matters at Quail H Farms

As a grower-packer-shipper of conventional and organic, premium California sweet potatoes officials at Quail H Farms LLC, understand that consistent quality and excellent customer service will only get them so far. They know that innovation and forward thinking that will take the company to the next level.  

“The California sweet potato industry is one of the last industries to integrate any type of automation,” said Larelle Miller, sales manager for the Livingston, CA-based company. “There are only a handful of shippers in California that have automatic bagging equipment, and there are fewer shippers that have any type of electronic sorting and/or sizing equipment.”

Quail-H-Docks-View While labor costs for harvesting and packing sweet potatoes in California is the highest in the country — and automation isn’t cheap — Miller noted that if a company’s five-year plan doesn’t include some form of automation equipment, that sixth year isn’t going to happen.

To that end, Quail H Farms installed an automatic bagging machine a few years ago. 

“With the Giro bagger, we have multiple weight bag options,” Miller said. “But one of the greatest things about these bags is the high-graphic film that we have designed with a selection of recipe options. In consumer surveys, most consumers say they are looking for different ways to prepare sweet potatoes. They want options and they want recipes. In lieu of POS materials that rarely get displayed, we are putting that information on the bag.”

The company also doing its due diligence to ensure it is investing in the most practical options for company growth, whether that’s in packaging innovation or harvest and packing innovation.  

“Retailers are always looking for another new and exciting package to help increase the category,” Miller said. “Microwaveable options can only go so far. Educating the consumer on the health benefits and providing easy recipes whether it be on the packaging, website or social media is a vital role.”

Quail H Farms has seen demand for sweet potatoes increase incrementally over the last few years, though this year has been a little flat. Still, expectations remain high for a strong season.

“I don’t know if it’s the fear of carbs all over again, if the messaging on the health benefits has dropped off or if consumers are buying something that is easier to prepare,” Miller said. “We had some challenging weather during our planting season that had us concerned. But so far, the harvest has gone well. We have had good yields and the quality has been excellent.”

Adam Shaner, Quail H Farms’ farm manager, is tasked with leading the crop on the ground, and the company is doing what it can to help him and his team overcome some challenges.

“Our biggest challenge is cost — labor, fuel, transportation, etc.,” Miller said. “We are looking hard at automation in the shed and in the field. There are no easy answers. California has become less Ag friendly over the years and we’re doing what we can to mitigate costs everywhere we can. We installed a 396-kilowatt solar system two years ago that has reduced our electric bill significantly. We are working direct with local carriers and negotiating the lowest freight rates wherever we can.”