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Flaim Farms and R&R Flaim Next Generation Produce endure where other companies fall short

A changing landscape in the New Jersey produce deal has brought both positives and negatives for the Flaim family, a grower-shipper of New Jersey fruits and vegetables based in Vineland, NJ.

“It seems like more of the smaller farms are closing each year, at least here in New Jersey,” said Ryan Flaim. “Mostly, it’s the older generation retiring and not being replaced by a new generation.”

On the upside, that means more business for those grower-shippers still in the deal.

But Mr. Flaim believes that it also can be a negative for the overall produce industry in the Garden State.

“The supply will still be there, but as an industry we are not as strong with fewer players,” Mr. Flaim said. “It can hurt us as a group, since it diminishes our lobbying power.”

The company has been able to sustain a strong business since its founding in 1934 by Tony and Catherine Flaim, who were later followed into the business by their son, Robert Flaim Sr., and his wife, Loretta. The third generation of the business, represented by Mr. Flaim Sr.’s sons, Robert Jr. and Kevin, eventually took control of the operations. Ryan Flaim is a member of the family’s fourth generation.

“Farming can be a very demanding business,” Mr. Flaim said, speculating on the reasons why growing operations are folding each year. “I’ve always liked it since I was a little kid, but I guess it is not for everyone.”

Mr. Flaim credited his grandfather, Robert Flaim Sr., with instilling in the Flaim family members a strong work ethic and a dedication to the art of farming.

“He was very open-minded and progressive,” Mr. Flaim said of his grandfather, who died this past April at the age of 77. “He laid the foundation upon which we will continue to build. “We definitely feel his absence, and he is already greatly missed.” However, the company has used, and will continue to use, the philosophy of Robert Flaim Sr. to its advantage, trying to stay ahead of the curve on such things as food safety and traceability.

“Produce is a business that is constantly changing,” Mr. Flaim stated. “We do what we have to do to stay ahead of the game. We actually try to look even further ahead and see where we have to be two years down the road.”

Last year, the firm earned GAP certification for its packinghouse and fields. This year, it has been working hard to be in compliance with traceability standards that have been implemented by the industry.

“Traceability is a very important issue because it helps instill consumer confidence in our products,” said Mr. Flaim.

Regarding the season at hand, Mr. Flaim said in mid-May, “Everything is coming on nicely at this point. The spring weather put us slightly behind schedule, but 2011 is looking like it will be a year of high quality. Greens are looking exceptional, with just the right weather — cool nights and light rain at times.”

Much of the product is sold direct to chainstores, and Mr. Flaim enjoys that type of business for several reasons.

“Working direct with the chainstores helps us forge strong partnerships with them,” said Mr. Flaim. “When we work closely together, they are able to tell us what they are looking for, and we can tailor programs and products specifically for them.”