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Ayco Farms strengthens procurement practices to facilitate growth

Ayco Farms Inc. in Pompano Beach, FL, which already claims to be one of the top-five importers of Peruvian asparagus, expects significant growth this year as a result of a strengthening of its procurement practices.

“We think we will have sustained growth of 25-35 percent this year,” said Peter Warren, who bears the title of asparagus salesperson. “We have changed how we are going about procuring product. And by doing that, we have improved the quality of our pack, and that is going to increase our retail business. It is a cause-and-effect kind of thing.”

Mr. Warren said that the firm has hired Peruvian asparagus veteran Tim Ryan to run its asparagus program. “Tim was the president at Crystal Valley Foods. He retired from there, and we brought him out of retirement to run our program,” he said.

Mr. Warren said that the move has resulted in a very significant change. “We are zeroing in on growers and working with them to provide us with a much more consistent pack. We are putting our systems in place and pre-qualifying the growers that we will work with. It makes a big difference if you pre-qualify the growers you are going to work with.”

He added that the ability to create a consistent pack of same-sized spears “is what separates the men from the boys in the Peruvian asparagus deal. It takes discipline and artistry to accomplish that task, and not everyone can do it.”

By pre-qualifying the growers, Mr. Warren said Ayco Farms can assure its customers that the packs they receive will be exactly what they order. “We are not putting out a combo pack,” he quipped. “Asparagus is sold by the size, and you can’t have three sizes in the same pack. Our ability to provide a consistent pack will grow the business.”

Mr. Warren sees Ayco gaining more and more market share even as the growth of the overall deal has slowed. “Some Peruvian growers are saying we will have negative growth in the coming years, but I don’t see that. It might only be single-digit growth, but I think volume will continue to grow.”

He did agree, however, that more fields are going out of asparagus production than are coming in.

To handle the additional volume it expects to receive this year, Ayco has revamped its cooling capability. Its hydrocooler has been retooled, and the firm put in new forced-air cooling capacity in south Florida. The company handles green and white asparagus from Peru on a 365-day-a-year basis. It sells its product in the traditional carton as well as in value-added packs. “The wrapped and value-added asparagus packs seem to be in vogue right now. It seems to go up and down. It is a faddish item,” he said. “They were hot for a while many years ago, and then they weren’t. And now everyone seems to want them again.”

He added that as summer heats up and the grilling of asparagus becomes more popular again, retailers are looking for larger sizes with “Euro wraps” that give the consumer grilling instructions.