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M&M Produce propelled forward by its young and progressive partners

Frank Musto, owner and president of Hartford, CT-based M&M Produce Inc., told The Produce News that the company continues to focus on its locally grown programs.

“We promote and follow the guidelines of the Connecticut Comes First initiative, which is sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture,” said Mr. Musto. “Farmers in our region who support the program typically label their products with the program stickers, and we hand out materials to customers to further support the program.”

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The four partners at M&M Produce Inc.: Steven Porter, David Makas, Frank Musto and Ken Milio. (Photo by Gordon M. Hochberg)

Sweet corn was available in late July, and Mr. Musto said the majority of the company’s supplies are sold in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“We ship a lot of locally grown peppers and squashes in this region as well,” he added. “Local apples are also a major program for us.”

But M&M is known for its tomato programs. The company ships grape, cherry, round and Roma tomatoes year round. “Depending on the season, our tomatoes come from Florida, Mexico, South Carolina, Ohio, California or other growing regions,” he said. “We are a full-blown repacker. We have our own sorting machines, and we are currently specking a new tomato line that we plan to install next year. Although we’re a full-line distributor, tomatoes are our primary commodity.”

M&M distributes from Maine to Virginia, and ships its tomatoes under the “Dolce Pomodoro” label.

Mr. Musto said that business in general has been challenging for the last couple of years, but the company has been restructured to ensure its success and to move forward when the economy is healthy.

“Energy costs are eating into everyone,” he said. “We’ve been hearing things like people are buying four ears of corn at a time instead of a dozen ears, even when it is being promoted. Economic uncertainty is eating into peoples’ pockets, and it’s showing in their spending habits.

“There is no consistency in business these days,” he continued. “If you get a pop in business, you’re scrambling for product, but then it goes flat for a week. If you’re loaded with product at that moment, you’re stuck. We are acutely aware of this business model, and it has us doing things differently. We just do not put ourselves into a position to have to push product today.”

Mr. Musto said that M&M has “trimmed its roots” to maximize efficiency and “to keep our same base of employees. That’s important to us because we are committed to staying true to our staff.”

In 2000, Mr. Musto partnered with Steve Fleishman to start M&M Produce. Mr. Fleishman retired in June 2010, and Mr. Musto now has three partner-owners: Ken Milio, chief financial officer; David Makas, vice president of purchasing and California vegetable and citrus, potato, melon and onion buyer; and Steven Porter, vice president of sales and the Eastern Seaboard buyer.

Although Mr. Musto is the wine grape buyer for the company, the four owners have a collective passion for wine and winemaking. They own and operate M&M Wine Grape Co., which serves all areas of the market for winemaking needs. Its product knowledge and logistical network allows the firm to serve wineries and winemakers alike.

“We [partners] range in age from the early 30s to early 50s, and I’m the oldest,” said Mr. Musto. “They are young, aggressive and they have progressive ideas about how business should be managed and operated today. Together we’re taking M&M Produce to the next level. Steve and I had a great partnership, but now this new group is moving us forward in new ways. When the economic downturn turns around and is healthy again, we’ll be in a position to make some major business moves.”

M&M Produce plans to construct a new building, and Mr. Musto said that the company will be ready to break ground next spring if things come together as the partners have planned.