Crystal Valley Foods, a Miami-based importer and distributor specializing in specialty produce from South and Central America, has opened a new division, Crystal Valley West, in Los Angeles.
Located on the Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, Crystal Valley West will focus primarily on sourcing specialty products from Mexico, as well as servicing the parent company’s West Coast customers with products from its points of origin, according to Rick Durkin, director of business development.
Crystal Valley started in business in Miami almost 20 years ago, “based on the Peruvian asparagus, French beans, sno peas and import business,” Mr. Durkin said. The company soon after expanded into Guatemala. “We have been working with probably the three largest exporters in Guatemala for about 18 years,” handling such items as French beans, sno peas, sugar snaps, baby carrots, baby squash, radicchio and English peas 52 weeks a year. Other points of sourcing were subsequently added.
“We started importing into Miami, and we have distribution on virtually a national level,” but most heavily from Denver east, he said. However, “we had several major customers on the West Coast that were demanding a higher level of direct service.”
Crystal Valley had been shipping products to those customers for years from Miami, “but they wanted us to be able to inventory and meet their market needs directly” from Los Angeles.
Initially, “we started looking for some handling and warehouse opportunities, maybe partnering with third parties. But we found that no matter how good the third party is to work with, nobody takes care of our your business like your own employees, so we didn’t have the type of control and service that we really wanted to be able to give the type of service that we wanted to our customers. So we decided to get our own facility and put our own staff out there.”
Locating on the L.A. Wholesale Market “was not the intent at the outset,” but a convenient opportunity arose at just the right time, Mr. Durkin explained.
Crystal Valley West opened its doors on the market last fall and has been essentially in start-up phase since.
The company was listed by Blue Book Services Inc. March 1.
Owner Jay Rodriquez “has spent quite a bit of time out there every other week during the past couple of months during the start-up phase,” Mr. Durkin said. “We’ve had a lot of our operations people who have been spending time out there to have cross training and get our inventory systems in place.”
The division is staffed by new hires, however. Brian Douglas, president of Crystal Valley West, “has a long farming background,” Mr. Durkin said. “He and his father were farmers in California, and he has grown up on the production side. He has a lot of experience growing and selling his own crops. But getting involved in asparagus and sno peas and sugar snaps is a new undertaking for him.”
Crystal Valley Foods will continue bringing some Peruvian product, especially asparagus, to the West Coast at times of year when Mexican production is very light. “But we are excited about being on the West Coast because of the opportunity to be able to establish relationships with Mexican asparagus growers for the ever-expanding Mexican season, as well as growers in specialty crops such as heirloom tomatoes, teardrop tomatoes” and other specialty produce items “that we have a little bit more difficulty sourcing” on the East Coast.
“During certain times of the year,” he said, “we will have trucks going from Miami to L.A., and other times of the year we will have trucks coming from L.A. to Miami,” or loading out of Brawley or El Centro, CA, instead of Miami, “so there is a real cross-pollination of supply and sourcing relationships.”
The majority of Crystal Valley’s products are marketed in the “Crystal Valley” label, he said. “We might start with a new grower for a transitional period and market a generic product or a non-house label. But once we have the relationship and the confidence level in the grower’s quality and food-safety certifications, then we will go definitely into a ‘Crystal Valley’ label.”
The company “has invested a lot of financial and human resources in the last two years in the food-safety area,” Mr. Durkin said. “Our Miami facility is now SQF 2000 Level 2-certified, and we are in the process of the food-safety certification of our Los Angeles facility. Packing plants that we work with in Central America are Primus SQF-certified and GlobalGAP-certified. The focus is on GFSI-accepted certification norms.”