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Malena adds sweet corn and Euro cukes to product lineup

Malena Produce Inc. in Nogales, AZ, has added some new items to its diverse lineup of Mexican grown produce items for the 2013-14 season, according to Gonzalo Avila, chief executive officer. The new items are sweet corn and European cucumbers.

Malena specializes in eggplant, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, chili peppers, grapes and melons. The company is perhaps best known for its eggplant and has been a leading supplier of eggplant in North America since the 1950s.

This year, “we are going to have a small sweet corn deal” out of northern Sinaloa, Avila said. “It is going to be a trial. We are going to see how that works out.” He expected the sweet corn to start in January.

“We also have another new item for us that we haven’t had in a few years,” he said. “That is the Euro cuke or the English style cuke. We will be starting with that toward the end of November or early December. That is out of the Obregon area.”

Although Malena crosses most of its products into the United States at Nogales, for the last three years the company has also been taking some loads from West Mexico to McAllen, TX, because of the freight advantage to customers in eastern United States.

This past summer, Malena also crossed product at McAllen from the state of Guanajuato in Central Mexico. The product is bell peppers, and “it is the first time we have done it in the summer months,” Avila said. “We started back in late July, and we will probably continue through the spring.”

Again this year, “as we start up our Sinaloa program, we will be bringing up to McAllen,” mainly from Culiacan, “eggplant, green bell peppers, red elongated peppers, cucumbers, mini-cucumbers and pickles,” he said. “It is still not a big percentage of our deal, but we are looking to grow it and increase it every year.”

As of early November, Malena had already been going for several weeks with its fall program of Italian and yellow squash out of the Hermosillo area in the state of Sonora and had started with cucumbers, mini-cucumbers, eggplant, green bell peppers and honeydew melons. Avila expected pickles and eggplant out of Sinaloa to start within a week and colored bells to start in late November. “Our winter cucumber deal will start in December.”

Most of the company’s products are grown in protected structures, although “the regular pickles are open field, as are squash, some eggplant, and some Romas. All cucumbers, all colored bells and some of the eggplant is grown either under shade cloth or under plastic, he said.

In addition to product from Mexico, Malena has picked up a greenhouse tomato deal out of Guatemala, Avila said. It will consist of beefsteak tomatoes and tomatoes-on-the-vine. “We are going to bring those up through South Florida and through the Philadelphia area.”

The company has handled grapes out of Chile in the past, but this is “the first time we have done something out of Guatemala and the first time we have done anything on tomatoes outside of Mexico,” he said.

“We are looking to expand our source of supply outside of just Mexico to have better ability to get to different entry ports in the U.S. at lower freight costs” as well as to access different growing areas, reduce weather risks, and “not always be dependent” just on Northwest Mexico, he said.