Forget what they used to say about small potatoes: A new, state-of-the-art facility in Arvin proves miniature spuds have become quite a big deal.
Tasteful Selections LLC hosted a ribbon-cutting Wednesday at its new, 200,000-square-foot plant built to sort, wash, store and pack up to 60 million pounds of potatoes per year along Di Giorgio Road.
At a time when Americans' overall consumption of potatoes is declining, Tasteful Selections has grown quickly since its 2010 launch by offering a variety of sizes and colors, from fist-size purple spuds to red ones no larger than a table grape.
With more than 4,000 acres in California, Arizona and Nevada, the company sells products in all 50 states and Canada. It employs more than 250 workers, most of them in Arvin.
The company operated out of a rented facility until a few months ago. What distinguishes the new plant, besides its capacity to expand and its highly efficient use of energy and water, is the focus on consistency.
Small potatoes are not new, after all; they used to come packaged along with larger potatoes. But by selling uniformly sized product, Tasteful Selections can market its potatoes as quick to cook, easy to eat and extra healthy -- because smaller means proportionately greater surface area, and the area around a potato's peel is considered the most nutritious.
"It's a great comfort food. Everybody loves potatoes," said Russell Wysocki, president and CEO of RPE, one of three companies sharing ownership of Tasteful Selections.
The company has taken steps to ensure consistency in not only size but quality. Its new plant boasts exclusively stainless steel machinery, computerized tracking technology and sorting equipment designed to minimize bruising.
"We are very cautious in how we treat our potatoes," said the plant's operations manager, Nathan Bender.
There is even an automated color sorter that takes a kind of digital image of each potato. Those that don't meet standards are removed and either used for processing or, in the worst cases, set aside as cattle feed.
At Wednesday's ribbon-cutting, Arvin City Councilman Jess Ortiz thanked the company for its commitment to the local community.
"We like what you have, and we're glad you're here," he said.
RPE jointly owns Tasteful Selections with CSS Farms and Plover River Farms Alliance Inc. CSS is based in South Dakota; the other two companies are headquartered in Wisconsin.