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Sunny times for SunnyRidge Farm as growth continues

by Chip Carter | January 03, 2011
A year ago, Winter Haven, FL-based SunnyRidge Farm Inc. took a giant step forward when it opened a new 51,000-square-foot facility in Plant City, FL.

The new facility tripled capacity and was designed to give the company room to grow. That plan is moving ahead according to schedule, said Sal Toscano, who launched the Plant City facility for SunnyRidge and is now leading it through its third season.

The state-of-the-art production center features three cooling rooms, 10 refrigerated loading bays and a drive-through pickup and dropoff area for unloading truckloads of berries fresh from local farms and elsewhere. The distribution and packing center is the centerpiece of the company's strawberry program, serving as the main shipping, receiving and cooling facility, supporting the company’s Florida blueberry, and Mexican, Argentine and Chilean berry programs. The company also has farms south of Plant City and a satellite facility that handles some of the cooling and distribution for that crop.

SunnyRidge has increased its capacity for each of the last three seasons and is on pace to do so again this year, according to Mr. Toscano.

"We have a little bit more acreage than last year; we’re up a bit," he said. “We haven’t increased the capacity of the facility, but we’re on an uptick on the amount of fruit we’re handling. We certainly have the room to handle more.”

In fact, the only thing that has slowed SunnyRidge this season has been the same thing that has hampered all Florida growers: horrible December weather, with a half-dozen nights of sub-freezing weather scattered over three weeks that month.

“We’ll see some effect somewhere along the line in some loss of bloom, but for the most part, we came through it very well,” Mr. Toscano told The Produce News Dec. 30. “We remain optimistic — and what are you gonna do? You play the hand you’re dealt. It’s pretty much strawberry business as usual. We’re looking to get past the cold weather and get into some good production.”

Even with the lost month, Mr. Toscano said that SunnyRidge’s volume this season will “probably be about the same as last year, and actually overall we’ll do more with the satellite facility down south.

Demand for berries is “definitely increasing,” and given that Florida growers usually have product well after the market window begins to close in March, Mr. Toscano said that SunnyRidge will try to stretch the season to Easter this year.

Family owned and operated since 1993, SunnyRidge is a grower, packer and shipper of blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. The company represents growers from regions throughout North America, Central America and South America providing for a reliable year-round berry supply. All farms are GlobalGAP certified. The company has its own in-house logistics department and trucks providing delivery to customers throughout the United States.