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The term "going south" has only positive implications for Superior Sales, a long-time produce grower-distributor based in Hudsonville, MI, which is formally launching operations at the border of Mexico and Arizona.

The Nogales operation is headed by Brian LaForest and staffed by Steve Murphy and Omar Castillo.

“We have been shipping out of Nogales since 1998 for the Sonora spring table grape deal and since 2002 for Mexico vegetables,” Mr. LaForest said in a mid-January press release, adding that Superior has actually been growing most of the same items as Mexico delivers in the winter during the summers in the Midwest since the early 1900s.

“That means Superior has had almost a century of experience in these items already,” Mr. LaForest added. “Our expansion to Nogales as a full-service distributor has helped us service customers year round with several items.” Explaining that for the last 15 years the group has specialized in grapes and tree fruit, Mr. LaForest said, “Grapes are why we started spending May and June in Nogales years ago in an effort to deliver the best hand-selected product to our customers. We soon recognized the need to expand that service to all items grown in Mexico.”

Mr. LaForest will continue to manage the grape and tree fruit categories for Superior. Mr. Murphy, who joined the Superior team in 2008, handles the procurement and distribution needs for the Nogales operation. Mr. Kern, a veteran with Superior, handles shipping logistics.

“With the $213 million expansion of the Mariposa Port of Entry, we see great opportunities for growth here and want to be involved in its development,” Mr. LaForest continued.

The company recently joined the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas and will be participating in other local organizations.

One of the other key initiatives for Superior is to expand its Latin American program. The company is currently handling imports from Chile and Brazil. It is also working with importers from South America, Spain and New Zealand, and is seeing demand for shipments to retailers as far away as the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean basin.

The more aggressive approach in Latin America is largely based on the growing demand for tropical fruit from Brazil. “That country is a major target for us, as their exports expand and their programs become more sophisticated,” Mr. LaForest added in the press release.

Superior Sales also is expanding its grower base in California. Recently, Chris Thomas and Nick Pappas were added to the Salinas, CA, office staff. Mr. Thomas joined Superior in late 2009 as director of grower procurement and business development, and Mr. Pappas joined last spring as sales and grower relations manager.

The commodities currently being packed in the “Superior” brand from California are strawberries, lettuces (leaf and Romaine), broccoli and cauliflower.

While the core of Superior's customers is based in the Midwest, the group has had success with retailers, wholesalers and foodservice companies throughout the country.

“What we offer is very personal service with strong retail knowledge,” Randy Vande Guchte, president and owner of Superior Sales, said in the press release. “We work closely with our customers to design services, pack styles and business models that meet their specific needs.”