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H. Smith Packing brings personal touch to its broccoli business

H. Smith Packing Co. offers something that few other broccoli shippers can lay claim to: complete control of its product from seed to sale.


A worker trims broccoli in a field. Crown-cut product has dominated the marketplace in recent years and is especially popular with retail chains in the Northeast. (Photo courtesy of H. Smith Packing Co.)
“We are different from our competition in that we manage our product every step of the way, from planting and harvesting to packing and cooling,” said Tara Smith Vighetti, director of marketing for the Presque Isle, ME-based grower-shipper. “Few, if any, other shippers can make that claim as many contract out one or more of those parts of the business.”


H. Smith Packing also offers a personal touch on other aspects of its business, said Ms. Smith Vighetti. For example, product is grown specifically for clients based on their product specifications.

“Most of our clients have custom specifications that go beyond USDA No. 1,” she said. “Some might like a darker product while others might require a certain size stalk. The fact that we offer that service is one of our competitive advantages.”

H. Smith Packing plants 15-20 trial plots of broccoli each year in an attempt to develop varieties with the most desirable traits, such as appearance or the ability to grow in certain climates or soils. Ms. Smith Vighetti said that the firm has hit on a couple of successful trials this season.

“We’re constantly doing trials with new varieties,” she said. “Every one of our lots is grown for a specific customer — our customers actually demand it. And we won’t cut product if it’s not exactly right. As painful as it may be, we will walk by a lot rather than harvest it if it is not perfect.”

Regarding the season at hand, Ms. Smith Vighetti said that a wet spring pushed back the start date by about two weeks into late July, and while supplies were on the light side early in the deal, demand has been strong and supplies will soon increase.

“We have perfect broccoli weather right now, with warm days, cool nights and just the right amount of rain,” she said Aug. 23. “Supplies will start to bulk up quickly and we’ll be at normal levels by Labor Day.”

H. Smith Packing handles both broccoli crowns and bunches, but crowns have dominated the marketplace in recent years.

“Bunch broccoli used to be everything, especially with retailers in the Southeast,” said Ms. Smith Vighetti. “But crowns have become such a big part of the business, especially for retailers in the Northeast. And crowns definitely command a premium price because the yields are actually lower once they are cut.”

The market so far this season has been fairly steady and demand has been strong, said Ms. Smith Vighetti.

“We added a few new accounts this year and we are excited about that,” she said. “We had some clients and potential clients visit us in Presque Isle, and they were very impressed with our facility and the fact that we maintain total control of our product from seed to sale. And with the freight advantage we offer over our competitors on the West Coast, it is a huge advantage.”