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Del Monte Fresh begins operations at Guatemalan greenhouses

Del Monte Fresh Produce recently finished phase one of its new greenhouse project and is now producing and shipping “Del Monte” brand premium beefsteak tomatoes and tomatoes-on-the-vine from Guatemala to North America.

Phase one included construction of 16 hydroponic greenhouses, covering nearly 25 acres, a packing plant, and other supporting facilities in Jalapa, Guatemala.

Del Monte’s greenhouses are state-of-the-art facilities with sophisticated food-safety and pest-control systems that go beyond standard Food & Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture protocol and regulations.

Each of the 148x472-foot structures has specially designed, fully automated butterfly window vents that help keep pests out; automated irrigation and fertilization systems; water filters; and high-tech fogger systems that help provide an ideal growing environment.

The greenhouses are also designed with internal drainage systems to help protect the surrounding rivers and water reservoirs and prevent greenhouse run-off. These special systems are in line with Del Monte’s worldwide sustainable management practices, and are just some of the many systems that Del Monte has put in place to ensure the long-term viability of the natural resources used for the production of its products and protect the environment within which it operates.

Located 90 miles from Guatemala City, the greenhouses are equidistant to Port Santo Tomas on the Atlantic Ocean and Port Quetzal on the Pacific Ocean.

“The geographical location of the facilities is one of their many distinctive and advantageous features,” Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing at Del Monte Fresh, said in a press release. “The proximity to two Guatemalan ports allows for easy and efficient access to all U.S. ports, helping to minimize our environmental footprint. The year-round tropical climate in this region also provides the ideal climate for greenhouse agriculture and allows us to use natural light versus the artificial lighting that some greenhouses located in Northern regions require. In addition, the moderate temperatures allow us to forgo heating during winter months, which helps save energy.“

Built in an area that is not typically conducive to conventional agriculture, the construction of the hydroponic greenhouses has helped provide a measure of economic growth in the surrounding community. So far, Del Monte has been able to permanently employ 257 people from the area for various operational activities, and that number is expected to double as more facilities are built and production increases. The greenhouse project has also helped stimulate growth in an area almost fully abandoned by industry. This has, in turn, resulted in the creation of an estimated 500 new jobs indirectly related to the Del Monte greenhouse project.

While Del Monte’s greenhouse products are available year-round, the core season will be October through June, helping to supply North America during the winter season.

“We are excited to be able to now offer Del Monte-grown greenhouse vegetables,” Mr. Christou added in the press release. “Greenhouse products are more consistent in quality and supply, produce a greater yield and are grown in more environmentally friendly conditions. The enclosed environment also helps mitigate food-safety concerns.

“The expansion of our tomato program is a natural fit and progression for Del Monte,” Mr. Christou added in the press release. “Since the inception of the brand, premium-quality tomatoes have often been associated with the Del Monte name, and it is so much a part of our company that even our logo originates from the shape of a tomato.”

This is the first step of a major expansion of Del Monte’s greenhouse program. The company has already begun construction of sister greenhouse facilities in Costa Rica that will have the capacity to grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplant, among other products.

In the coming months, Del Monte also will be expanding operations at its Guatemalan facilities and has many proprietary greenhouse varieties in the pipeline.