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Customers waiting for fall lettuces from The Fresh Wave

Nick Giordano, vice president of The Fresh Wave LLC, in Vineland, NJ, told The Produce News that the company’s import and fall-green programs are the big deals for the company.

“Lettuces are our primary category,” said Mr. Giordano. “We focus on certain growers who pack to our specifications. The results are phenomenal for us. In past years we had to work hard to sell fall greens, but today they come looking for us in the fall.”

The company is also leading the New Jersey-grown sweet potato deal, and is a year-round supplier of the commodity.

“We have our own pack out of North Carolina,” he said. “But we put a hold on that crop until the New Jersey crop is extinguished. Sweet potatoes were a major deal here 20 years ago, and although it fell off considerably, the growers are still here and ramping their crops back up. We have the same type of sandy loam soil that North Carolina has, which enables growers to produce outstanding quality. We started with New Jersey sweet potatoes the first week of September and will run them through Thanksgiving, which is the big punch for demand.”

During the season, the company also ships 2,000 cases of New Jersey sweet potatoes twice a week to Canada, an extremely high-demand area, according to Mr. Giordano.

In-state growers produce the most popular varieties, including the Beauregard, Evangeline and Covington. Last year sizes on the Covington were mostly jumbo, which made them more difficult to sell to retailers, who generally want smaller sizes.

This year’s New Jersey sweet potato crop will be down in volume because of the shortage of sweet potato plants this year.

The Fresh Wave is currently shipping blueberries from Oregon and British Columbia.

“These programs will run through October 1, and then we move to Argentina blues,” said Mr. Giordano. “This is a small deal, but it fills in the gap until we jump to Chilean blues, which starts toward the end of October.

“We have developed very strong relationships with growers in Chile,” he continued. “We started this import deal last year, and it went so well that we are doubling it this year to about 2 million pounds. The Chile deal runs to April.”

Following the Chilean blueberry program, the company moves to Florida product. Mr. Giordano said that the state is the “golden child” of the blueberry deal because it’s the only game in town with blueberries until Georgia and the Carolinas begin.

“Then we’re back to New Jersey blueberries, which is the core of our deal,” he said. “Unfortunately, this year’s New Jersey blueberry season was the worst ever. Growers had horrible labor issues. The Duke variety comes on fast and it needs to be kept up with, and we just don’t have the needed labor. We expect to see blues picked by machine in the future rather than by hand to resolve this growing labor problem.”

Mr. Giordano said that he doesn’t think that Americans who are out of work in this economic downswing even know that produce jobs are available to them, and he feels that the government should do a better job to promote them.

“These are respectable jobs that pay well,” he said. “But if you go into poverty-stricken areas, I doubt that you’d find anyone who knows that these jobs are available. We talk about immigrant labor and the problems surrounding it, and our jobless rate is higher than ever. This work is a real option for people.”

Lettuces are The Fresh Wave’s second largest program. Mr. Giordano said that the company had one of the best springs ever, with outstanding quality and strong volumes.

“This was particularly good news following the tough winter everyone had,” he said. “We have an exciting customer base for the product. Customers wait for us to begin our fall season.

“The New Jersey Fresh locally grown program is the best one out there,” he continued. “Not only does it mean the freshest possible product, but it also gives back to our growers and it saves on freight costs. We can give those saving back to the grower, which enables them to grow more and to run profitable businesses.”

The Fresh Wave places a strong push on its “Fresh Wave” brand on its products.