New agricultural processing plant under construction

GCF Frozen Inc. is relocating its San Martin agricultural processing plant to Hollister, where it will employ more than 100 workers

A new multi-million agricultural processing plant under construction on Fairview Road between San Felipe Road and Highway 156 in Hollister will allow a local farming family to expand its capacity to provide locally sourced ingredients to such household brands as Campbell, Nestle, Heinz and Kraft.

GCF Frozen Inc., a family-owned business operated by the Chiala family of George Chiala Farms, is relocating its San Martin agricultural processing plant to Hollister and expanding the site in the process by building a brand new facility from the ground up in the San Benito County community.

The new 82,000-square-foot, multi-million-dollar Hollister processing plant is expected to begin production in August and will have the capacity to process 40-60 million pounds of finished product each year, according to GCF Frozen Inc.’s General Manager Tim Chiala. This output can be compared with the San Martin site’s current capacity of 19 million pounds of finished product per year.

The company’s Morgan Hill agricultural processing plant that employs 250 year-round workers and has an annual production capacity of 50 million pounds of finished product will remain unchanged.

“It’s a big expansion for us,” Chiala said of the new Hollister plant, adding that he has been “active in every aspect of the design” along with Joe Torquato, GCF Frozen’s director of engineering.

Workers at GCF Frozen’s processing plants prepare raw agricultural products by washing, dicing, heating and flash-freezing vegetables that will become the ingredents used in mass-produced, pre-packaged meals. The growth in the market for these types of convenience meals in recent years inspired the family to move forward with the expansion, Chiala added.

According to Chiala, the family began to plan for a new site approximately five years ago when the 60,000-square-foot San Martin site was nearing capacity. As the family expected, the facility has maxed out its capacity for the past two years as business has increased.

Once the new Hollister site is constructed, the current San Martin processing plant will close. Moving to the larger Hollister site will allow his family to hire additional local workers, Chiala said, explaining that the San Martin processing plant employs 70 full-time workers as well as seasonal help that can swell the number of total employees to 200 during the peak season.

While he doesn’t yet know how many more workers he will need in Hollister, Chiala estimates that he will need 125 to 130 year-round employees for the new space and as many as 230 during the peak season.

Chiala said he is also excited to have greater access to partnerships with growers in San Benito County. While the company currently sources 85 percent of its produce from local farms in Santa Clara and San Benito counties, Chiala commented that he expects this average to rise when the new Hollister plant is complete because locally-sourced produce will be available virtually year-round.

Another reason for the move; “San Benito County is very ag-friendly and business-friendly” Chiala added.

According to Chiala, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors was supportive of the family’s plan for a new Hollister facility from the very beginning. The county’s planning department worked well with the family too, Chiala added, helping them to streamline the process to make their tight deadline a reality. Construction of the new facility began in January and is expected to begin production in August.

Only months remain until production at the new plant begins. Chiala said he is primarily concerned with the logistical details associated with moving his operations at this point, as well as making sure critical equipment is installed on schedule.

Chiala continues to work alongside his parents and siblings as partners in the business. His father, George Chiala, started his farm in 1972 and began processing produce in 1984. Today Chiala’s brother, George Jr., runs sales and marketing for the company while Chiala focuses on day-today operations. His mom, Alice and father are still active in the business as well. Chiala’s sisters, Christi Becerra and Nicole Zands, are also silent partners.