ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Ingles Markets here has opened a produce warehouse facility that will allow the chain to buy and distribute fresh fruits and vegetables directly for the first time.
Ingles' continued expansion prompted the need for a new facility, according to officials at the 183-unit chain.
"We need this kind of facility to handle the needs imposed by our substantial and continuing growth," Robert P. Ingle, chairman, said in a statement.
Previously, Ingles had been buying its fresh produce through a broker, Merchants Distributors, Hickory, N.C., according to Ed Kolodzieski, vice president of operations at Ingles.
"We now have 100% control of the buying, warehousing and distributing process," Kolodzieski told SN.
The biggest benefit from the new facility will be the power and increased control over produce variety and quality that is afforded by direct buying, added Leonard Tasler, vice president of produce operations.
"We're really looking at being able to buy directly for the first time," Tasler told SN. "We're now able to build relationships with our growers."
Ingles will be able to upgrade some of its produce categories, he said. "It will give us a little better mix than we had before." Kolodzieski agreed. He said quality control will be the No. 1 benefit for Ingles, given the new produce warehouse.
"Our quality-control folks have very specific guidelines about the produce we'll accept at the warehouse," he said. Buyers will now be able to turn away unacceptable produce at the warehouse, he explained.
To handle the additional work of the new facility, Ingles has named Todd Mudger produce buyer. Mudger, who reports to Tasler, was previously a produce buyer at Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.
Tasler added that learning the ropes of direct fresh produce distribution has been a challenge. "We're trying to get organized," he said.
Ingles opened the produce facility, which was a major part of a large new addition to the chain's existing warehouse, in October.
The climate-controlled facility contains a 55-degree dry room and two 36-degree wet sections. There are also 10 banana-ripening rooms.
Besides accommodating produce, the 310,000-square-foot addition includes a poultry room, a room for dairy, deli and meat products, and a dry goods section.
The original warehouse complex was built in 1978. With the addition, the total facility is now 760,000 square feet.
Although it is up and running now, the new produce warehouse is not fully completed, but is scheduled to be completed early next year. "We're running on seven cylinders now," Kolodzieski said.