Laura Blackwell: Aurora offers ‘quality that we can prove’
Monday, September 27, 2010 By Rand Green for "The Produce News"
Aurora Products in Stratford, CT, sells more than 200 All Natural products, many of them Organic, and many in the category of nuts and dried fruits, along with a wide assortment of trail mixes and granolas, several types of veggie chips and a new line of salad toppings. “Our tag line is ‘Genuinely All Natural,” said Laura Blackwell, marketing director. “Aurora is very focused on selling just All Natural products. None of our products are conventional.

Along with the focus on All Natural products, a major emphasis of Aurora Products is producing products “of the highest quality,” Ms. Blackwell said. While many companies talk about quality, “we actually have quality that we can prove.”

There are “a couple of ways we can do that,” she continued. One is through SQF certification.
The SQF Program, offered by SQF Institute, a division of the Food Marketing Institute based in Arlington, VA, is “one of the world’s leading food safety and quality management systems,” Ms. Blackwell said. Certification by SQF provides customers with the assurance that “our product is safe,” that it is “of the highest quality” and that the source of all ingredients can be “quickly identified.”

A second means by which Aurora can demonstrate its quality is by the quality standards it specifies for the ingredients the company sources. “We do not compromise quality for price,” she said. “We focus on the top-grade food products, and we do not compromise at all when it comes to food integrity.”

And yet, “we are still able to be very price competitive,” she added.

“When it comes to our dried fruit, our trail mixes and our veggie mixes, and our fruit mixes, we try to be healthier whenever possible,” she said. As an example, when procuring Organic mangos, pineapple or dried peaches and pears, “we make sure that we bring in the no-sugar-added product.” In tropical fruit, “we ... use low sugar.” In dried cranberries, cherries and strawberries, the company uses products that are infused with apple juice rather than with sugar.

“Our veggie chips and our carrot chips are all fried with nonhydrogenated oil,” she said.

In its own production processes, the company also takes steps to assure high quality, Ms. Blackwell said. “We roast our own Organic nuts,” both to assure freshness and to reduce the opportunity for nuts to break during the shipping process. “We also mix our own trail mixes” to be sure that the ingredients are “evenly distributed.”

Aurora sources its ingredients “from all over the world,” she said. That way, if quality is not satisfactory in one region, “we can source product from another region of the world that doesn’t have an issue with supply and doesn’t have an issue with quality … to make sure we get the best quality product to supply our customers.”

Among the dried fruit products offered by Aurora are apple slices, apricots, banana chips, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, crystallized ginger, Zante currants, dates, figs, mangos, papayas, pineapples, prunes, strawberries and raisins. The company also handles more than eight varieties of nuts, which it offers in several forms.

“We sell primarily to the grocery channel,” said Ms. Blackwell, daughter of Stephanie Blackwell, who founded the company in 1998. Ms. Blackwell has had involvement with Aurora since its inception but was named marketing director about four months ago.

Among the newer products from Aurora is “Salad Fixin’s,” with “a combination of eight different nuts, seeds and dried fruit,” which was introduced in early 2010 and which has done phenomenally well, becoming “probably our most profitable item,” she said. A new item which “we are just about to launch” is called “Cranberry Orange Salad Fixin,” consisting of orange juice-infused cranberries with crispy noodles.

Aurora considers its products to be produce items, and “maybe 90 percent of our accounts” merchandise them in the produce department,” Ms. Blackwell said.