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Pacific Foods models a new way of giving

New program aims to meet food bank needs


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Pacific Foods has grown at a rate of about 15 percent each year since it was first founded on Tualatin-Sherwood Road in 1987.Tucked away in the Silicon Rainforest, the Pacific Foods company has been cooking up some interesting schemes in Tualatin for the past 26 years.

Its recent launch of a new, low-sodium line is helping the company, known for its cartons of soups, to maintain a unique presence in the market. But locally, it’s the company’s innovative approach to charity that is getting it some attention.

The company announced on Tuesday it would be donating at least 24,000 cartons of soup to the Oregon Food Bank each month — but that isn’t surplus. According to Pacific Foods founder and Chief Executive Officer Chuck Eggert, the plan is to create an “intentional production system” to meet the needs of the food bank, which last year provided about 43.5 million pounds of food throughout the state. That means Pacific Foods will combine its own ingredients to complement donations the food bank has already received — and many of those donations will be locally farmed, surplus produce.

That also means Pacific Foods will dedicate a “development team” to plan recipes around donations. The team then instructs Pacific Foods on the kinds of soup to cook up in large batches.

The effort is expected to provide food bank consumers with 576,000 free meals each year, using what Oregon Food Bank Chief Financial Officer Susannah Morgan refers to as “an inconsistent — and seemingly incompatible — list of ingredients.”

“We’re grateful for their generosity, because it’s the kind of nutritious food that our clients are looking for,” she added.

According to the food bank, this new approach, and the kind of flexibility it offers consumers, will likely prevent waste to the tune of 200,000 pounds of edible donations that might otherwise have spoiled.

This also means the food bank may be able to welcome more perishables, which they have not always been able to accommodate.

It is Eggert’s hope that as his company devotes production line time to the effort, it will have more than surplus produce to work with. Pacific Foods hinted that some area farmers have expressed an interest in setting aside a few of their acres to grow for the food bank.

“Our hope is that farmers are inspired to raise dedicated crops for donation because we’ve saved line time to cook up something delicious and nutritious,” Eggert explained.

Eggert himself is firmly ensconced in the healthy food world: Until February 2012, he was a member of the board for New Seasons Market, which he also cofounded.

The need is clear: Oregon Food Bank reports it has seen demand for emergency food boxes increase by 41 percent since 2008.

The project is also a sign Pacific Foods has grown a lot since it was founded in 1987. Ingredients for the food bank will be created sometime during the company’s 24-hour-a-day production schedule at the Tualatin campus, which now boasts 15 buildings and which employs more than 400 people.

Pacific Foods started out with two buildings on Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road. Back then, it was a tofu and soy milk co-packer.

During one of its faster growth periods, Pacific Foods became one of the largest donors to the Oregon Food Bank, providing a reported 9.4 million pounds of food over the past decade.

Logistically, the partnership makes sense: The company has long been devoted to the TetraPak form of packaging, with materials harvested from sustainably managed forests. An alternative to the traditional “soup in a can,” the TetraPak cartons have a shelf-life of up to 24 months and are made without bisphenol A, a synthetic compound often used in plastics but which has caused concern in recent years for its potential toxicity.

“We did it because we didn’t know we couldn’t,” Eggert said of the company, reflecting on its annual growth rate of 15 percent. In the past five years, however, the company has doubled in size.




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