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Weis-Buy Farms expands its private-label, social media programs

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Arthur Ellis, Chuck Weisinger, Paul Boris and Michael Shapiro of Weis-Buy Farms at the Florida Tomato Conference earlier this year. (Photo by Chip Carter)

The always innovative team at Weis-Buy Farms, Inc. in Fort Myers, FL, has added a few new wrinkles to its lineup, readying to establish a social media presence and expanding an already successful private-label import program.

The company will soon launch a produce industry blog on its web site at www.weisbuy.com, to accompany current information like market reports and insights from owner Chuck Weisinger’s many years in the business.

The company’s private label, “Tropical Jewels,” is expanding and upgrading its Dominican Republic production facilities to bring in even more premium, greenhouse-grown colored peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes. And a new deal with a premium grower in Mexico will have Weis-Buy marketing its own pineapples by the end of November.

Weis-Buy was founded in 1991, and “We’ve survived because we’ve changed with the times,” Mr. Weisinger said. “That’s why we personally went into this Dominican Republic pepper deal. We grow red, yellow and orange, everything we have is grown in a hothouse, so the product is very, very fancy. It’s a year-round deal out of Florida, prices are always commensurate with what’s going on and we like the fact that there are very few complaints about our product.”

Weis-Buy has 100 Primus-certified greenhouses in the Dominican Republic under contract.

“It’s a good source of supply for us and the quality has been superb. It’s a nice thing to hang your hat on,” said Paul Boris, who handles the Dominican deal from Weis-Buy’s branch on Florida’s east coast. “We have colored peppers, we’re going to have some slicer cucumbers grown in greenhouse which is something a little different, we’ll have some regular English cukes as the season progresses and we also have Romas, round tomatoes and some beefsteak and on-the-vine clusters.”

The Dominican deal “has really expanded for us and we’re looking to expand it some more,” Mr. Boris said. “We have a definite niche in the Southeastern region because we’ve got less freight and we’re a little closer than if we were bringing stuff in from Mexico or Canada. We’re making strides to improve the pack, we’re putting in some new precoolers and we’re able to do some custom packing, like the stoplights. We’re aggressively talking to retailers and we’re open to doing some custom packing or even proprietary or private label packing.”

By the end of the month, Weis-Buy’s first pineapples should be heading to the United States from Mexico. Though it has not yet been decided how the pineapples will be labeled (either under the grower’s “Pinicola” label or Weis-Buy’s “Tropical Jewels”) the company’s Mike Shapiro made it clear this will be a premium product.

“Our partner is a great grower and a shrewd businessman,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We’re waiting for the fruit to sweeten up to his standards. I’ve tasted it, it is a delicious piece of fruit. We’re already calling potential customers about this.”

Mr. Weisinger said he expects “pretty good volume” for its Dominican product starting in mid-November.

Meanwhile, the company continues to trade in a wide variety of produce, much of it Florida-grown.

“Cultural practices have saved our industry — we’ve gotten better at what we do,” Mr. Weisinger said. “Today’s produce business is, number one, proactive, not reactive; second, in Florida we can guarantee the safest produce in the world right here and we’ve got the paper to prove it; third, with the price of gas going the way it is and Eastern markets going where they are, Florida has an edge on a delivery basis.”

He continued, “We’re making substantive changes, other people are making substantive changes. I think we’re all going to have to have a blend of produce from here and overseas and the truth of the matter is the one who does it the best and the cheapest is going to end up surviving. This isn’t all about Mexican produce or Chinese produce — this is about making a living and keeping your supply chain filled, that’s all it is.”