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ERG

At the Produce Marketing Association convention more than a year ago, a group called Eleven Rivers Growers introduced an ambitious project to certify selected Mexican-sourced product via a rigorous inspection standard, which would allow the distributors to market those fruits and vegetables as a premium product.

But thanks to the whims of Mother Nature, the project was delayed a year.

Fernando Mariscal, who is the cooperative representative for Eleven Rivers Growers, said that the Feb. 3-4 freeze in Mexico wiped out much acreage and put the Eleven Rivers program on hold. However, he indicated that it was a blessing in disguise since it “gave us the opportunity to review the concept and the platform we had established and make it better.”

Mr. Mariscal said that the original idea to create an enhanced food-safety initiative was good, but “we had not yet established standards to audit against.”

With more time, the group developed those standards and by this winter’s shipping season, Mr. Mariscal said that at least 40 million cartons will carry the Eleven Rivers seal of approval.

“Right now we have nine companies signed up that we have approved, but by Dec. 1, I think we will have 28 companies in the program,” he said Oct. 16 during the PMA Fresh Summit convention in Atlanta.

The program involves certifying product from the field through the packing and shipping process, and into commerce. Mr. Mariscal said that every field of every participating grower-shipper has been certified, as have each firm’s packing facilities. The program also calls for daily inspection of the produce being shipped. He said that each pallet from a participating company will have an “Eleven Rivers Growers” branded pallet wrap, which will signify that product as having passed the enhanced food-safety and quality standards. The pallet wrap also means the product is fully traceable back to the field where it was grown.

The companies that had already signed up by the PMA meeting are some of the larger Mexican-based organizations in the business. They are Agroexportadora del Noreste, Agricola EPSA, Agricola Gala, Agroindustrias Tombell, CAADES Sinaloa, De La Costa, Del Campo y Asociados, Grupo GR, Triple H and Tricar Sales.

The program will be funded by an assessment on each pack, which will be determined by how many packs are run through the program. Mr. Mariscal expects the final cost to be about 5 cents per package. He said that eventually there will be a budget for promoting the “Eleven Rivers Growers” brand to U.S. customers, but for the “first year we are going to be low-key and make sure it works the way it is supposed to.”

The initial grower-shippers involved have mostly winter vegetable production, he said, but the goal is to make it a year-round program with producers of summer items as well.