With new innovations, SunGarden™ works to bring more consumer confidence
to the sprout industry and to grow the industry as a whole.
By Staci Davidson
As the healthcare industry tells us to increase our intake of vegetables and greens, the International Sprout Growers Association likes to note that sprouts are a good low-calorie source of protein and vitamin C. Alfalfa, mung bean, radish, soybean and wheat sprouts also offer a nice, healthy crunch on sandwiches or in salads.
International Specialty Supply (ISS), Cookeville, Tenn., is the one-stop shop for commercial sprout growers, providing the industry with sprouting seed, sprouting equipment, sprouted fresh products and sprout powders since its inception in 1979. With the business units of SunGarden™ and Sentrex Manufacturing, ISS offers natural ingredient sprout powders, manufacturing equipment, sprouting supplies, sprout packaging and seed, and helps growers and processors with HACCP plans, third-party safety inspections and design of facilities.
SunGarden™ is the business division of ISS that offers natural sprout powders, fresh sprouts, and treated sprouting seed. As a global leader in the sprouting industry, SunGarden™ continues to support sprout growers by offering treated, premium seed and continues to educate consumers about the benefits of eating sprouts.
“We were founded in 1979, strictly as a sprouting organization, supplying fresh sprouts to restaurants, grocery stores and distribution centers in the region around Tennessee,” Marketing Director Silas Stoddart explains. “At that point, sprouts really weren’t mass marketed, but we started mass marketing and business really took off. We had to learn to grow on a larger scale, but there was no large-scale sprouting equipment for the industry. So, we built equipment for our own use.”
That’s how Sentrex Manufacturing, the manufacturing business unit of ISS, was established. Sentrex Manufacturing now supplies about 20 different types of equipment to the global industry.
SunGarden™ started sourcing its own seed in the mid-1980s, attracting the attention of sprouters around the world. In the late 1990s, more consumers became interested in sprouts, but sprouts also became associated with foodborne illnesses.
“We developed a method for testing seed from the raw agricultural point to detect any presence of salmonella, E. coli or listeria,” Stoddart says. “That method was adopted by the FDA as the only way to purchase sprouting seed. We developed the testing method around 1998, and we kept going. In the mid- to late-2000s, we began drying and milling our fresh sprouts into powder for the nutraceutical industry. These sprout powders provide valuable food content and clean labels. The dense nutrition in our sprout powders has made it a very popular product line.”
SunGarden™ continues to innovate to support the sprout industry. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been more than 30 foodborne illness outbreaks traced back to sprouts since 1996, and most of them were traced to contaminated seed. In March, ISS introduced SunGarden Seed, a premium line of sprouting seed that incorporates a organic, non-thermal pathogen-reduction process.
In an exclusive partnership with Agri-Neo Inc., SunGarden™ Seed uses Agri-Neo’s EPA- and FDA-approved Neo-Pure technology to achieve a 4-log (10,000 times less) to 6-log (1,000,000 times less) reduction of pathogens, while safeguarding the nutritional profile, germination, taste and texture of the seed. Standard sanitation processes achieve only a 3-log (1,000 times less) reduction of pathogens while also using harsh chemicals. SunGarden™ Seed is also in strict compliance with FDA sprouting safety guidelines, meaning growers are not required to take additional sanitation steps, saving time and money.
“We are the only company in the United States to have this equipment, and we are creating safe seed for the entire industry,” Stoddart explains. “We are helping to change the industry and combating fears of foodborne illnesses in sprouts. Sprouts are an easy target because it’s a small industry, but it gets a bad rap. We’re changing that with improved seed treatment processes.”
SunGarden™ is the only company in the industry that offers as comprehensive of offerings as it does, and is one of only a few operations that sells sprouting seed. It continues to address safety concerns, while also responding to other consumer demands, such as for more organic products.
“People are moving away from wanting chemicals in their food,” Stoddart says. “The FDA mandates that all sprouts grown in the industry have to use a scientifically-validated sanitizer to alleviate the pathogen problem. Previously, the only valid method was a calcium hypochlorite mixture. It was only approved because there was no alternative, but it’s like soaking the seed in bleach.
“We are bringing in an organic, plant-based liquid that we apply to the seed and dry with no residue,” he explains. “This way, our partners no longer have to use a bleach-water mixture. All of our sprout powders are organic, and we use the same processes on our own seeds that we turn into powders.”
To maintain peak freshness, SunGarden™ doesn’t sell its fresh sprouts outside a 500-mile radius of its facility, but the company is dedicated to improving the entire industry by selling its seeds to other growers. With its seed line, SunGarden™ reaches the global market.
“I see us being the industry standard as a seed supplier,” Stoddart says. “With our new seed sanitation process, we want to be the organization that supplies the entire industry with sprouting seed. That way, we know the industry is using the best seed to help the sprout industry grow. We’re not only helping them compete on a local scale, but also a national and global scale.”