The company has been around for about eight decades, has operated in many different areas and time zones, and has changed its name from time to time, but President Chuck Thomas of Thomas Produce Sales is content to stay put in Nogales, AZ for now.
“My grandfather started the company in North Carolina in the 1930s, and we worked tomato deals all over the country, including North Carolina, Florida, Michigan, Mexico. I used to go from deal to deal,” he said.
But about 11 years ago, Chuck Thomas bought the company from his father, Charlie Thomas, and moved the headquarters to Nogales. “We still have farmland in North Carolina, but we couldn’t make any money farming it, so I lease that out. My kids were born out here and I married a girl from out here, so I figured that’s where we should move the company. This is where we made most of our money anyway,” he quipped.
Thomas Produce Sales still works many deals, but the bulk of its tomato supplies come from Mexico and California. Chuck Thomas runs the company but his father still works the deals. “I used to work for him; now he works for me,” said the younger Mr. Thomas.
He said that volume coming out of Mexico’s Baja California and up through the state of California is predictably light, and there is less volume this summer because of the current cessation of the Oceanside Produce deal in northern San Diego County. “There is less volume, but some growers have planted a little more to make up for it. And if they didn’t plant extra for the summer, they probably put in a little more for the fall,” he said.
The homegrown deals that proliferate across the country during the summer typically take a bite out of the demand side of the equation so the lack of summer volume from California is not a bad thing, Mr. Thomas said. “It’s just given us a little better market.” He quickly added that there seem to be enough tomatoes to go around. “The Oceanside Produce pullout didn’t do anything to the Roma crop so that’s pretty good. And up the coast [in Ventura County] there are a couple of guys with some [mature] greens going pretty good.”
Mr. Thomas said that the industry is biding its time until the regional deals die out and the country is once again relying on the larger commercial grower-shippers to fill the demand. “I anticipate that the market will get stronger by the middle of September,” he said.