Joe Sbrocchi, vice president of sales and marketing of Mastronardi Produce Ltd. In Kingsville, ON, said that the company began working with organics just after the turn of the new millennium.
“It was a big decision for us as a company and for our growers to move their production to organics with one item in early 2000s,” said Mr. Sbrocchi. “Obviously for greenhouses the move to organics is different than that for a field grower. Originally there was some question as to whether greenhouse-grown organics would be accepted. Time has proven that they are.”
Today Mastronardi Produce produces organics in all of its major lines. It offers organic peppers, regular and mini cucumbers and many of its specialty and commodity tomatoes. Its biggest selling organic items are “Campari” trademarked tomatoes, followed by peppers, cucumbers and mini cucumbers.
“We are really happy with the way our two-pack overwrapped pepper and our single flow-wrap pepper items are being received by our clients,” said Mr. Sbrocchi. “These packs are ecologically friendly and they allow our retail partners to maintain integrity and identity when scanning across the front ends, which is always a challenge for organics.”
Mastronardi Produce’s organic products are grown in Canada and Mexico currently, but Mr. Sbrocchi said “stay tuned as we expand our greenhouse presence in the U.S. We will be producing there too.”
The company’s customer list spans the full spectrum of retail chains, independents and foodservice operations. It ships across North America and to offshore countries.
He does not think that the challenged economy is affecting the produce industry today.
“The increasing determination of the North American consumer to live a healthy lifestyle, reduce obesity and maintain vigor in graying years has by far offset any drag that the economy might have had on our business,” he said. “We see the guarded optimism that seems to be prevailing in the U.S. recently to translate to improved sales for organics. While we did not see a retraction in our organic sales in the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, sales did flatten out. Now there definitely seems to be some increased momentum. It’s all good.”
The company is continually expanding and upgrading its operations. In the past 12 months it has made numerous improvements to its facilities.
“These include a site re-build to our home farm in Kingsville,” said Mr. Sbrocchi. “We have enhanced our packing capabilities at many of our sites, made improvements to the Brush, Colorado, facility and increased our acreage at various facilities in Mexico. Additionally, we continue to insure that the highest food safety certifications are in place at all our facilities.”
The company has augmented its sales department with four new additions: Pam Cherwak, Lauren Hayward, Joe Canzoneri and Carlos Mendoza.
Mr. Sbrocchi said he feels that the locally grown and organic trends are totally compatible with each other.
“It is key to have savvy individuals who are tuned in to what the market will demand and are capable of growing the product to the consumer’s expectations,” he said. “Both retailers and foodservice clients are dedicating their resources to making sure that locally grown gains traction within their respective organizations. The real challenge is in making the logistics work, and in maintaining an environment that allows growers to grow and make a profit.”
He added that the organic and locally grown movements are capable of combining together to be significant, “And we believe that this will be the case,” he continued. “The interesting part of the equation is how they fit with the greenhouse agriculture. This is our challenge. In greenhouse agriculture, many of the things that attract consumers to organics are not really an issue. One example of this is pesticides. In greenhouse production they are seldom if ever needed. That being said, the true rules of any business still apply: For any movement to gain widespread traction and sustainability it must make common sense, be logical and it has to make dollars and cents. Given our investments in both these movements we obviously believe that there is a future in them.”
Mr. Sbrocchi said that Mastronardi Produce will have organic Zima variety tomatoes available in very limited quantities in the coming fall season, with larger volumes available next spring.
“In its conventional format the Zima has exceeded all expectations and we feel that it will do just as well in organic,” he said.