Westlake Produce Co. in Winter Haven, FL, might not be the biggest player in
the Florida citrus game, but it is large enough to provide ample volume of
standard and specialty product -- and small enough to remain nimble and
cater to its clients.
"We're small enough that we can do things more uniquely. Our ability to pack
the 'Always Fresh' brand enables us to produce three or four commodities in a
single day if need be. That gives us the ability to offer multiple varieties and
keep our inventory fresher, too, while being able to pack for specific needs by
customer," said Jack Cain, who came on board with the Los Angeles-based
company's Florida division in 2009. "You've got to set yourself apart. Our size
and versatility is an asset to our trading partners."
After years in his own company as a transactional buying broker, "The
production-based opportunity that Westlake Produce has embraced lured me
to bring my trading partners on board with Westlake," said Mr. Cain. He
believes that having "skin in the game" as growers and shippers solidifies the
partnership with its customers.
Westlake's "Always Fresh" production has increased its market share in citrus
this year over last year and sees that trend continuing. In addition to citrus,
the company grows, packs and markets Florida and California strawberries,
domestic and imported blueberries, and southeastern watermelons and
cantaloupes, all packed under its "Always Fresh" brand.
The company's size and diversity mean that Westlake can cater to special
needs and take the time to promote unique products like the red-fleshed
Cara Cara orange, a cross between Washington and Brazilian Bahia navels that
first popped up as a mutation 35 years ago in Venezuela and is now growing
"What's been a good growth category for us is the special varieties like the
Cara Cara, Lee Citrus, temples and tangelos -- items that will differentiate
our partners from the mass merchandisers," Mr. Cain said. "We want to offer
our customer great eating fruit with unique eating profiles. We look forward
to the new varieties that the University of Florida is working on which will
open more doors to Florida citrus."
But Westlake of course deals in traditional citrus varieties as well. And despite
the worst drought in 15 years and four freeze events over six weeks in
December and January, the first half of Westlake's season has been very good.
"This season the sugar content, eating quality, price point and cosmetic
appeal of the fruit all have been there," Mr. Cain said. "Milder weather with no
hurricanes or heavy tropical storms has given us the prettiest crop
appearance in decades. The thing Florida historically has struggled with is
external appearance. This is one of the best years I've seen in terms of
exterior appearance. And the eating quality is there."
Westlake's first-half of the season success "has given us traction and a nice
launching point for promoting Florida citrus moving into mid- and late-
season fruit, knowing we may have a shorter season due to a smaller crop
volume," Mr. Cain said.
In addition to its own farming operations, Westlake partners with small- to
mid-sized growers, many of whom are facing mounting challenges from
increased regulation and decreased production. Westlake's goal is to help
those farmers succeed, and "we want to grow with them," Mr. Cain said. "Our
growth is going to come from doing what we're doing: partnering with small-
and mid-sized growers and walking them through those challenges, while
fighting to secure sustainable returns for our growers."