Pro*Act names Steve Finberg its new VP of sales and marketing
April 13, 2005
PRO*ACT, a Monterey, CA-based leading fresh produce supplier to the foodservice industry, announced that it has appointed Steve Finberg vice president of sales and marketing.
He will assume these responsibilities from Brad Young, who recently stepped down to assume leadership of Incredible Fresh in Naples, FL, one of PRO*ACT?s 44 distribution companies.
Mr. Finberg has more than 15 years of experience in the industry with increasing responsibilities from upper management to executive leadership roles. He comes to PRO*ACT from L&M Cos., where he most recently held the position of vice president of sales. Prior to his tenure with L&M, Mr. Finberg was executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer of DiMare Fresh.
PRO*ACT provides consolidated produce and perishable distribution, sourcing and technology programs to foodservice operators through its network of distributors from over 66 distribution centers nationwide. Mr. Finberg will be responsible for developing, managing and executing the company sales and marketing plan to expand its leadership position in the perishable distribution category.
Steve Grinstead, president and Chief Executive Officer of PRO*ACT, said in a release, "Steve?s extensive background in produce, both sales and operations, and his experience in all aspects of the fresh food distribution business will bring tremendous benefits and opportunities to PRO*ACT as we continue to expand our organization. We are excited to have Steve join our dedicated and committed executive management group and look forward to all that he will bring to the team."
Honduras' vegetable exports expanding as country still recovers from Mitch
April 12, 2005
by Tad Thompson
Mauro Suazo has struggled to recover from Hurricane Mitch since the storm dumped up to four feet of rain on Honduras between Oct. 25 and Nov. 1, 1998. Always an active industry leader, Mr. Suazo has served as a consultant for Honduras' Department of Agriculture. He headed the Central American Melon Conference, hosted by Honduras, last summer.
Speaking with The Produce News April 5 about Honduras? status in post-Mitch redevelopment, and the progress of Honduran produce exports, Mr. Suazo provided a mixed review.
He said the national economy has grown by 3 percent for each of the last three years. "That is above average in Central America, and it has been sustained, which is good."
This growth "has kept the country in tune with the International Monetary Fund to the point of performance in fiscal responsibility? that the government of Honduras is entitled to the pardoning of some foreign debt. "At the end of the tunnel this is a reward. Now Honduras is eligible for more loans and reduced debt." He said that the national government "is trying to ease poverty, which is difficult. But overall, the prognosis for the country is good."
In central Honduras? fertile Comayagua Valley, many good things are happening, Mr. Suazo said. "The Comayagua Valley will soon be the equivalent to Culiacan [Mexico]. To me it's amazing when I go there and see development."
The Honduran government provided the technical expertise and financing for a turnkey Comayagua greenhouse project. This created 50 hectares of greenhouses last year, with an additional 20-30 hectares being built both this and next year. This greenhouse project has the capability to compete with Mexican and Canadian greenhouse vegetable production "once Honduras gets a protocol to allow [it] to ship tomatoes and colored peppers and other items now forbidden to enter the U.S. due to fruit fly."
He said that work is underway with the USDA to receive that protocol. "I don?t know how fast or slow that is coming, but without it there is no way to diversify. If they don?t receive the protocol, this [greenhouse project] will be a white elephant."
Greenhouse vegetable productivity is five times that of an open field, Mr. Suazo said. Comayagua Valley open fields are exporting a variety of fresh vegetable crops, such as eggplant and pickling cucumbers, to the United States. But the winter market becomes saturated with those crops, so to survive the greenhouses must be shipping other items, such as colored peppers and vine-ripe and tear-drop tomatoes, he said.
Mr. Suazo credited grower Omar Mejia of Inversiones Mejia for not only surviving Hurricane Mitch, but flourishing with Oriental vegetable exports since the disaster. He said that Mr. Mejia controls most of the 2 million packages of Oriental vegetables being shipped to the United States from the Comayagua Valley. Inversiones Mejia has over 600 small suppliers.
?How he managed to do it, I don?t know," said Mr. Suazo, "but he has it organized. Anyone who goes to Honduras to try to tap into Oriental vegetable demand ends up doing cucumbers and eggplants and sweet onions because Mejia has a firm grip on the Oriental vegetables."
Mr. Suazo said that the Comayagua Valley now has 35,000 hectares of drip-irrigated farm land. Exporters there enjoy good connections to the seaport. "Labor is abundant and the horticultural culture there goes back many years. Twenty-three years ago, I was involved in putting the first drip irrigation in the Comayagua Valley."
He said that Comayagua growers are addressing high freight rates by chartering refrigerated vessels bound for Florida ports. This practice, Mr. Suazo predicted, will continue to increase. There is discussion of starting a charter to a northeastern U.S. port, such as Philadelphia.
When Hurricane Mitch struck, Mr. Suazo?s family was one of about eight major melon grower-packer-exporters located in southern Honduras in the Choluteca area. This broad, flat coastal plain of red earth, which lies between El Salvador and Nicaragua, served as the drainpipe for the water that rushed to escape Honduras? Pacific-facing slopes. Except for one built by the Japanese, bridges were wiped out. (The Japanese bridge, though still standing, was obsolete because the river bed moved.) Melon packinghouses and warehouses were destroyed. Roads in some places disappeared or were grossly damaged. Many people vanished with their homes.
?After Mitch was done, there were four or five [melon] companies left. Today there are three. Honduras lost its place in the [melon] market in Europe and the U.S.," Mr. Suazo said.
The remaining melon companies are the Sol Group, the Molina family and a firm owned by Fresh Quest in Pompano Beach, FL.
Mr. Suazo said that the Honduran government started financing small growers, but "people in the melon business now require a critical mass to produce and be certified in food safety and have the volume needed for packaging, cooling and a lot of infrastructure."
Companies like Mr. Suazo?s "suffered the loss of infrastructure in Mitch that was never replaced because the national bank will not finance us again. So Honduras? melon industry declined, but three companies picked up the slack and enlarged themselves."
Still, he said that Honduras has been unable to match Costa Rica?s aggressive melon industry, which now has 30 independent melon companies shipping to Europe and the United States. Costa Rica, Mr. Suazo said, has overtaken Honduras as Central America?s leading melon exporter. Guatemala, with a large melon business coming in part from Del Monte, is Central America?s second-largest melon exporter, followed by Honduras. Panama ranks fourth, trailed by Nicaragua. According to a USAID web site, in 2001, Honduras exported 1,374 containers of honeydew. This grew to 1,568 containers in 2002 and 1,709 in 2003. The primary export season runs from January to April. Mr. Suazo said that Honduras? "cantaloupe production has come down drastically and honeydew has stabilized. Watermelons, because they require less infrastructure, have increased quite a bit."
Speaking by telephone from his Pompano Beach office, Mr. Suazo said that his firm, Suazo Agro, "was one of the thriving companies damaged by Mitch. We lost $1.5 million between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. one night. Since that day, the Suazo family has struggled and fought hard trying to get back on its feet. We have not found the local financial support. We?re now looking for foreign financial support, and if it is found, we will go back to farming. If not, we will focus our efforts on becoming a marketing liaison."
Mr. Suazo said that Honduras will be holding national elections this November, with a new president scheduled to take office in January.
?It is expected the same party, the National party, will win the election. If that happens, the new president will continue to expand on bringing people back to farms from the big cities."
The National party candidate, Pepe Lobo, "is a grower-farmer-producer himself. He is the president of Congress now. On the other side of the fence, Mel Zelaya is running against Mr. Lobo. He has been a candidate in the past and unable to win. It looks like he won?t be able to win now."