TURLOCK — FreshPoint is more than doubling the size of its refrigerated produce distribution warehouse in Turlock, a multimillion-dollar project it expects to complete by September.
"This will enable us to expand our product lines," said FreshPoint President Steve Lay.
Expanding is something his company knows a lot about.
Three local guys Jeffrey Sacchini, Glenn Davis and Ken Taylor launched the company in Modesto in 2000, naming it Piranha Produce. They started with a dozen employees, but the operation has grown to nearly 200 workers and it continues to add staff.
Sacchini, Davis and Taylor still work there, but they sold the business to the Sysco Corp. in 2005, changing the name to FreshPoint.
The company also moved to Turlock in 2005, where it opened a new 47,671-square-foot facility on North Golden State Boulevard.
Now it is building a 71,000-square-foot expansion. That will more than double its cold-storage space and add an employee break area and locker room.
While its city building permit lists the construction costs at $6.7 million, Sacchini said the whole project's cost "is much, much more significant than that."
Just buying the 5.6-acre lot it needed next door cost the company nearly $1.2 million.
But times are good for FreshPoint.
"We never missed a beat (during the recession)," said Sacchini. He now is a regional vice president for FreshPoint, which has 31 locations nationwide. "We don't really have boom-and-bust cycles in the food distribution industry. People always have to eat."
And it's increasingly trendy to eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
When Piranha Produce started, it distributed about 400 products. Now the Turlock facility sells about 2,200 distinct items, including a growing array of organic and ethnic specialty foods.
Besides fruits and veggies, FreshPoint has started supplying many of the other items sold in grocery produce departments, including juices.
"We have more items than we have pick spots," Lay said.
A "pick spot" is the designated rack space where products are stored between delivers. Some of those spots now are shared by eight products, which means they must be restocked by hand rather by fork lifts moving whole pallets.
Lay, who joined the company 10 years ago, noted how products are crammed into "every nook and cranny" of the current warehouse. They're even stacked on shelves above the shipping doors where trucks are loaded.
Space is so tight, Lay said, that they must bring in more frequent small deliveries rather than larger, cost-efficient shipments.
"Sometimes I think we invented the term 'just-in-time delivery,' " quipped Lay, noting how the warehouse currently turns over its entire inventory about three times a week.
Things should get easier once the new refrigerated warehouse is complete.
Lay said it will be equipped with a modern product management system that will enable the company to fulfill orders more quickly and accurately.
"It's really about being more efficient," Lay explained. By having room to assign every product its own spot, fork lifts rather than strong backs will be able to do more of the moving. "We're definitely going to take a step up in technology."
That's important, considering how a produce supplier must be able to accurately trace where every one of its food products came from and where it was delivered. That's required to make sure any contaminated food can be tracked back to the source even back to the field where it was grown.
FreshPoint also plans to use the added space to expand its tomato repack operation. It now has 30 employees dedicated to sorting 14,000 cases of tomatoes per week, matching them by size and color in neatly packed boxes for picky restaurant chefs and those who demand perfect consistency.
"We've got a lot of prospects for growth," Sacchini assured. "Our future is bright."
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.