With its warm days and cool nights, Maine is a Utopia for summer broccoli production. But early July was unusually warm and wet, making the start of the season a challenge for Smith Packing Inc., a leading broccoli grower-shipper based in Presque Isle, ME.
In fact, broccoli production across the nation in early summer was limited, leading to some tight supplies and a very strong market in the beginning of the deal.
“There were some challenges in the early part of the season,” said Tara Smith Vighetti, director of marketing at Smith Packing. “But working around Mother Nature is part of the deal when you are in produce.”
Vighetti said a key strategy when confronted with a situation such as this is to nurture good lines of communications with her customers.
“We try to be honest and upfront about any issues relating to volume and quality, and our customers really appreciate that,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to get as many boxes as possible at the right quality to our customers.”
She added that Smith Packing generally identifies specific lots for customers before product even gets into the box. “Customers have different specs and ideas about what is perfect for them, and so we try to give them product that meets their exact specifications.”
The company’s peak harvest time is late-August through October, she said.
“Despite the challenges with weather, yields have been very favorable and customers that have commitments on season pricing and committed volume were thrilled to have those deals in place with us when the market was tight and prices were high,” said Vighetti.
She added, “As one of the first and largest producers on the East Coast, we have to continually improve our product and service to maintain our competitive edge. We can also offer a significant freight advantage over western product.”
The 4,000 acres of broccoli in Maine represents the largest part of Smith Packing’s business; however, the company also has a winter broccoli deal in Florida that it is looking to expand.
“We have a stronghold in the Eastern market and we want to be a year-round supplier for our customers,” said Vighetti. “We can learn what they like best and in turn they can come to count on the consistent supply that we offer. A seamless supply is truly what we strive to provide.”
Smith Packing also produces a modest amount of cauliflower — about 100 acres — and it has begun to grow Romaine, Red Leaf and Green Leaf lettuces for one of its customers.
“We’ve had lettuce trials for a few years, but this was the first year of commercial production,” said Vighetti. “It is something we are watching closely, and we want to keep it measured because we want to do it right.”
The issue of food safety is one that Smith Packing takes very seriously, and “we are always looking to keep pace with the latest developments,” said Vighetti. “Absolutely every box and every facility are in compliance with all food-safety requirements. We undergo regular third-party testing and score very high marks on those audits. Additionally, we are fully GFSI-certified and PTI-compliant.”