A surge in sales is driving Amy's Kitchen to add workers and production lines in Santa Rosa just months after the natural foods manufacturer targeted Medford, Ore., for its expansion.
With sales on track to jump 30 percent this year, Amy's workforce in Sonoma County has risen from 700 people a year ago to about 1,000 today. Earlier this week, the company opened a small plant on Sutton Place, in facilities formerly occupied by La Tortilla Factory.
"Sales have grown faster than we anticipated," said Andy Berliner, who founded the fast-growing organic frozen and packaged foods company with his wife in 1987. "We're out of production capacity."
Two years ago Berliner anticipated sales growth, and he conducted a study to find the best place to expand his Santa Rosa company. In November 2004, he selected Medford. The Medford facility is expected to begin operating this fall, he said Friday.
The company's decision was a blow to Sonoma County business and civic leaders who had hoped to convince Berliner to grow Amy's Kitchen locally. Berliner cited the high cost of doing business in California as his main reason for choosing Medford.
Although Berliner anticipated growth, his projections fell far short of reality.
A dramatic rise in demand for Amy's natural and organic foods - led by the company's popular new Indian foods, its bowl meals and its gluten-free products - has kept the company scrambling to fill orders.
For example, Amy's has only been able to fill about 85 percent of customers' orders for its frozen foods, Berliner said.
"We've cut all our promotion and marketing activity. But now that Sutton is going, we're going to try to catch up," he said.
Berliner expects to keep the Sutton Place facility open at least for several years. Employment in Santa Rosa is expected to stabilize at 1,000 workers, instead of the 700 he anticipated a year ago, he said Friday.
Most recently, the company has hired 69 production workers, nine managers, three clerical workers and eight skilled tradespeople.
It still needs about 20 more production workers, some kitchen help and a few others, Berliner said. Production workers start at $7.75 an hour, and kitchen work starts about about $10 an hour, he said.