“We grow over 75 percent of what we sell in high-tech state-of-the-art facilities that we own,” said Douglas Kling, senior vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for Village Farms International, headquartered in Eatontown, NJ. “We currently grow tomatoes-on-the-vine, beefsteak, cherry, grape, Roma and heirloom tomato varieties.”
The company also has over 70 items in trial and development, most of which are on an exclusive basis with its global seed partners and geneticists.
“We also grow mini cucumbers and long English cucumbers,” said Mr. Kling. “And we own a packing facility in the Dominican Republic where we work with hydroponic growers on an exclusive basis with Bell peppers.”
Village Farms also has several new items in trial, including eggplants, which are more unique to greenhouse environments.
The company’s greenhouses are located in Marfa, Fort Davis and Monahans, TX, and in Delta, British Columbia.
Village Farms operates in Texas 365 days a year. The BC operation is active from late February through mid-December, determined by weather and light conditions.
“We don’t grow organic because we use fertilizer that is sterile and not organic,” said Mr. Kling. “Village Farms’ belief is [this method] makes our crop more natural, and in the long run safer for consumers. It is difficult to track potential problems with organic fertilizer.”
Helen L. Aquino, marketing manager for Village Farms, said that while all greenhouses are not created equal, the company’s high-technology hydroponic glass facilities are beautiful indoor gardens where plants are able to flourish in a natural growing setting.
“We use integrated Pest Management to combat bugs,” said Ms. Aquino. “We do not use herbicides, we recycle water five times and we use less land to grow more food. These practices make our operations highly environmentally and economically efficient. Our variety development has always been focused on creating consistent-quality vine-ripened products with the highest level of food safety that are delivered fresh to our retail customers 365 days a year. What truly sets us apart within the niche market of high-tech hydroponic growers is our focus on flavor.”
Village Farms’ customers are located across Canada and the United States, and it is expanding its export markets. Its primary customer focus is on the fresh retail side, with inroads in upscale foodservice operators and restaurant clients.
Mr. Kling said that the economy always has an effect on the food industry, and that, “With all the uncertainty in the global and domestic financial markets, there has been slightly more emphasis on price features,” he said. “However, consumers want affordable luxuries and indulgencies to offset the stress of daily life and challenges. Produce is an affordable healthy indulgence and that in our view has given some rise to specialties that have a unique proposition for the consumer.”
In late May of 2012, Village Farms experienced a freak hailstorm in Texas that wiped out 82-acres of its greenhouses. But within 12 weeks, 40 of the acres were rebuilt and fully functional.
“However, we are still working on replacing the other 40 acres based on a new direction in growing specialties by working more closely with both our retail and genetic partners,” Mr. Kling added. “Our efforts are driving innovation that is critical to industry growth, and new consumers’ demands for flavor, healthy products and of course safe products.”
Village Farms’ strategy is to continue to expand into new markets. With the locally grown trend continuing to strengthen along with concerns on carbon footprints and food safety, Mr. Kling said the company is and has been in development for strengthening its position both in the industry and in new and expanded local markets.
Ms. Aquino added that the company has seen a fantastic response to its “Olde World Flavor” collection, which was launched at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in October 2012.
“Our new packaging concepts, including our new trademarked variety names, were launched at the 2011 Fresh Summit, and these too continue to be well-received,” she said. “We will have more exciting developments in 2013 that will link consumer desire for healthy snacking and easy meal-planning options.”
“Consumer trends in wellness continue to build with the graying of America,” Mr. Kling noted. “People are living longer, stronger and better. Childhood obesity is becoming not only a domestic but also a global epidemic. As a company and an industry, we are positioned well to meet consumer needs for better stronger and healthier lives.
“At Village Farms, these are exciting times,” he added.