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MamaMia looking to take business to the next level

by John Groh | April 15, 2010
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ -- Although MamaMia Produce has been in business for seven years, it is a fresh face to many in the industry. But with a new focus on marketing, the firm is looking to become a household name before long.

MamaMia started as an offshoot to Rossman Farms, a longtime wholesale and retail institution in Brooklyn, NY. While Rossman Farms remains in the Sunset Park neighborhood of New York's largest borough, the owners moved the MamaMia division across the Hudson River to this community best known as being home to Giants Stadium and the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

Julio Garcia, director of sales and product development, and a veteran of the New York produce scene, joined MamaMia at the beginning of the year and has been charged with increasing the company's profile and getting its products on more retailers' shelves.

Mr. Garcia brings a contagious enthusiasm to MamaMia, garnered from his many years in the New York trade. As a young child, he spent a significant amount of time at Julio Garcia Produce, his father's business that specialized in tropical produce and was located on the Bronx Terminal Market. Most recently, he owned and operated Associated Produce in the Bronx, NY, before selling to his business partner late last year.

While looking for a new opportunity, he happened upon MamaMia and immediately felt that it was a good match for both him and the company. "They were looking for someone who could bring them to the next level, and I was looking for someplace that needed help with its marketing. It was really a perfect situation for both sides. I see a big future here at MamaMia."

Mini Persian cucumbers and cocktail tomatoes on-the-vine are the two main items distributed by MamaMia, which sources product from 25 greenhouses in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, according to Mr. Garcia. This represents a marked increase over the four greenhouses it used when it opened for business seven years ago.

Other products handled by MamaMia are grey squash, peppers, avocados and a host of seasonal and specialty items, such as papaya, mini seedless watermelon, melons, yellow cherry tomatoes, red hot finger peppers, open- field peppers and Cubanelle peppers.

MamaMia uses its namesake "MamaMia" brand for the premium-quality items it packs. Product that does not meet its top grade standard is packed in a second label, "La Vita." But whether packed in the "MamaMia" brand or the "La Vita" brand, product will not get packed at all if it does not have excellent flavor.

"Product has to taste great and it has to be affordable," said Mr. Garcia. "We won't pack anything that doesn't taste great."

So far, retailers largely have been receptive when Mr. Garcia and Daniel Mosquera, sales and purchasing coordinator, have come knocking. With a directive from company owners to add two retail accounts this year, Mr. Garcia said that he and Mr. Mosquera have already signed on six in the first three months alone.

"I would consider myself a good salesman, and Danny is too, but it's really the products that sell themselves," said Mr. Garcia. "Once these [retailers] taste them, they are sold."

Despite a desire to try for more, Mr. Garcia said that MamaMia would step back and concentrate on servicing those accounts. "You don't want to grow too big too fast," he said.

Instead, the focus will shift to looking for new products for the company to handle. Recently, MamaMia added a Mexican Hass avocado program to accompany its greenskin avocado line. Mr. Garcia also is eyeing a New Jersey deal that would feature blueberries and heirloom Beefsteak tomatoes, and he has been in contact with several prospective growers in the Vineland, NJ, area, who are open to the idea of selling direct to MamaMia.

Developing new packages is another way that MamaMia is hoping to stand out. On the drawing board is a picnic basket-style container for blueberries, which would join an innovative handbag line that places product in pouches designed to look like handbags.

Regarding the "MamaMia" brand, Mr. Garcia said that it has broad appeal. "When you hear the name 'MamaMia,' you might immediately think Italian, but it also has Latino overtones, and I think there is great potential for marketing tropical items under that brand. I think we will do very well in reaching Latino consumers. With Latinos expected to make up 25 percent of the U.S. population [by 2050], I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't reach out to them."

Currently, the focus for MamaMia is the East Coast of the United States. "We are concentrating on controlling Maine to Miami," said Mr. Garcia. "But next year, I would like to start looking for a distribution center out on the West Coast, maybe around Fresno, and start opening up the West Coast market."