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Al Harrison takes on new partner, diversifies, adds 3 to sales team

by Rand Green | December 06, 2010
NOGALES, AZ — Al Harrison Co. Distributors, here, which has traditionally been a shipper and distributor of watermelons and hard shell squash, has made some major changes in its operation this year, greatly expanding its product line and bringing on additional sales personnel to handle the new items.

"It is going to be quite a change this winter from years past," said Brent Harrison, president. In July, he brought on a new partner and vice president, T.J. Bauer, who for the previous 18 years had run the Nogales branch of L&M Cos. Along with that, “we hired three more salespeople,” he said — Scott Kosnik, Tomas Gonzales and Danny Rivera.

Mr. Harrison's sister, Shelley Harrison-Valdivia, continues as a vice president as well as secretary/treasurer of the corporation.

With those additional personnel, “we are adding a bunch of new commodities to our line,” Mr. Harrison said. Among the new items for the company will be cucumbers, bell peppers and organic bell peppers, Roma tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini squash and sweet corn, primarily from Culiacan in Sinaloa, Mexico.

“One reason we are bringing on these new commodities is for growth in the company,” he said. “But another reason is to supply our customers with different products. Our goal is … to have these basically year round.”

In addition to bringing the vegetable and tomato products up out of mainland West Mexico, the company currently has a Roma program in Baja California, Mexico, and is “looking into other items” there as well. In addition, “we are looking into California, Texas, Georgia, Arizona and the state of Washington.”

One of the major concerns for Al Harrison Co. in taking on the additional products, Mr. Harrison said, was “to make sure that we adhere to all the food safety standards and that all certifications are put in place. That is mandatory for us to do that.” The company has hired a new employee specifically “to take charge of our quality control and maintain the certification of facilities.”

The company has adequate square footage in its facilities in Nogales to handle the additional items, but considerable upgrades are being undertaken to make them suitable for the products. In particular, “we didn’t have the refrigeration” that is needed, “so we have purchased the refrigeration” and it was currently being installed, Mr. Harrison said Nov. 18. Other modifications are being made to the facility as well.

All Harrison Co. is working with “multiple growers throughout Culiacan” for the new items this year, he said. “These are all new growers” for the company. “We are looking forward to working with them. We were looking for people that had experience with these products” who already had a history of producing good yields and good quality and doing things that would make the relationship “profitable for us.”

Mr. Bauer has “a lot of experience in the Culiacan area” and “knew growers” there. “His relationship with the grower base … is helping us out tremendously.”

All of the products will be packed in house labels. In addition to the company’s well-known “Si Señor” brand, Harrison has introduced a new brand, “AHC,” which is being used for greenhouse and shadehouse products — anything grown by “protected agriculture,” to differentiate it from open field product, Mr. Harrison said.

The company was already receiving Roma tomatoes from Baja and was expecting its first vegetables from the Culiacan area around the first week in December, he said.

All of that is in addition to “our normal products that we carry like our hard shell squashes, watermelons and honeydews.” The melons started in October in Sonora and will switch to the state of Colima in late December. The company’s watermelon acreage out of Colima will be up this winter, he said. The hard shell squash had just started out of Hermosillo and will later overlap with production out of Guasave in northern Sinaloa.