Full speed ahead: Sunland hopes to have products on shelves soon
Sunland Inc. Vice President Katalin Coburn said she's excited that Sunland is one step closer to getting its products back on the shelves as peanut butter production resumed Monday.
Sunland is bouncing back from a salmonella outbreak that linked its products to 41 cases in 20 states last fall and shuttered its plant for months.
Roosevelt County Chamber of Commerce Director Karl Terry said the community never lost faith in the company that is the heart of the Valencia peanut capital and the country's largest organic peanut butter processor.
Sunland also is a major part of the chamber-sponsored annual Peanut Valley Festival.
"It's very heartening to see that the community stayed behind them," Terry said. "That's a testament to see how good a small business like Sunland is. You don't get that respect by accident."
Coburn said it shouldn't be too long until people can see Sunland's products back on shelves nationwide.
"I really can't predict that just yet, the restart of the plant is not just turning on a button," Coburn said. "But I would guestimate products back on the shelf within a month."
The Food and Drug Administration has been the regulator in Sunland's return to nut butter market. In a month-long investigation conducted by FDA inspectors in the fall, samples of salmonella were found in 28 locations in the plant and 13 in nut butter samples.
As requested by the FDA as part of Sunland's reopening, Sunland hired an independent expert to help develop a sanitation plan.
Coburn said as part of the plan, peanuts will be processed on one line separately from their nuts such as almonds in Sunland's nut butter plant.
The Portales City Council recently approved $150,000 in economic development funds for Sunland to cover some of the costs of its sanitation plan, according to City Manager Tom Howell.
"The purpose of that money is to help them get through requirements of the FDA," Howell said. "One of the requirements to reopen is that they had to have an independent inspector. We're going to help provide some money to those costs."
Sunland currently has 100 full-time employees and has plans to create 40 new jobs as it continues to rebuild, according to Roosevelt County Community Development Corp. Director Doug Redmond.
"I am very much looking forward to being able to go and talk with all our customers and generally being back and doing business," Coburn said. "I'm looking forward to creating new products and providing wonderful Valencia peanut-based products."
— By Christina Calloway, CMI staff writer