Bernardi & Associates Inc., which is headquartered in Nogales, AZ, and has branch offices in California, Texas and Florida, is a full-line broker in the Nogales tomato and vegetable deal.
“Our sales team stays the same for this year, and we are still moving the same kind of commodities” as in past seasons, said President Joe Bernardi. “We are heavy to tomatoes” but also handle “all of the bell peppers, cucumbers, squashes, melons and chilis.”
When The Produce News talked to Mr. Bernardi, he was still in the Turlock, CA, office where he has been working the summer and fall California tomato deal. As is customary he will be going down to Nogales the first of the year for the winter deal.
Also in Nogales will be Manny Gerardo, Alex Leon and Jose Suarez, he said. “Manny and Alex stay down there year round, and Jose is heading down there next week. “
Also, “we have Wade Ellis in Florida and Joseph [De La Osa] will be back out there with him starting in December.”
Additionally, “we have our office in McAllen [TX],” he said. “That is a vibrant, busy office down there, too.” Sales are handled out of the other offices, “but we have our QC guy down there who is busy on a daily basis.”
Bernardi has an office in San Diego as well to look at product coming in from Baja California, Mexico. “We are still loading out of Baja” and will continue to do so until the first of the year, Mr. Bernardi said. “Baja is a big part of our program starting in April every year” and continuing through December. The months of January, February and March are the only months “we are not loading out of there,” … but Baja has been a great summer deal …. and quality has been really good.”
In south Texas, “that deal just continues to grow,” he said. “Every month we do a little bit more down there, and it has gotten to be a big part of our program for supplying different parts of the country.”
The California tomato deal this summer “was not a barn burner, but it was good, I think, for most people,” Mr. Bernardi said. “There were less Eastern tomatoes [in the market], so we had good distribution going to all parts of the country. Now, as Florida comes in, their early crop out of Palmetto-Ruskin was lighter [than normal] and they have had higher than normal markets.” The crop out of Immokalee FL, was “still a couple of weeks away, but the reports I am getting on that is they have good quality and see good yields out of there, so we should start to see Florida volume pick up for December and the first part of January.”
Market prices coming into the Thanksgiving weekend were “on the higher side, which is pretty normal,” he said. “Unfortunately, usually right after Thanksgiving, tomato markets and most of the other markets tend to drop down a little bit.” There is typically something of a lull between Thanksgiving and Christmas, he said. Then things pick back up again after the first of the year. “But for the next four weeks, it is usually more on the slower side for us.”
By January, the tomato deal out of Mexico will be going strong, and “from the information I am getting, there is less acreage planted down in Mexico this year,” so “I think we will see a little bit better markets” than last year, he said. “We are already seeing that in Florida. They have less production out of there, and the markets are a little better.”
There is a lot of rivalry between Florida and Mexico in the tomato business, and between different segments of the business. But “I think a lot of this battling that we do back and forth between growing areas doesn’t do the industry any good,” nor does the fighting between segments in the category, Mr. Bernardi said. “We should be spending our efforts creating more consumption … instead of fighting back and forth.”
A part of the market equation that some people don’t look at, he said, is “all the different categories there are in the tomato line” such as mature greens, vine-ripes, Romas, cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine, hothouse tomatoes, Cherub tomatoes, heirlooms tomatoes and other specialty varieties. What is needed, he said, is “to raise consumption, because there are so many different SKUs out there that are on the retail shelf. So for one part of this industry to go after another part of the industry and say, ‘We want just ours out there,’ well, that is not going to happen. Everybody is going to be out there. So what we need to do is raise consumption so everybody can sell their crop. That is the bigger picture we need to look at.”
Weather disasters in one growing area can cause shortages that result in high prices that are not good for the industry, Mr. Bernardi said. “Super high prices tend to kill demand at both the foodservice and the retail level. We obviously don’t want to see cheap prices like we did last year, but prices in the moderate range are what I think is best for the industry from top to bottom. It puts tomatoes at a promotable level with good quality and a supply source that people can count on, and that is what increases consumption. More than anything, what we want to do is increase consumption o f our product, which will in turn give people better pricing.”