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J&D Produce dedicated to quality and consistency in Texas and beyond

J&D Produce, an Edinburg, TX-based grower-packer-shipper, kicked off its Texas deal and is looking forward to a promising 2012 with its “Little Bear” branded items.

From Texas, J&D is currently shipping wet vegetables, such as cabbage and leaf items, as well as specialty peppers, such as Cubanelles, Hungarian hots, Long hots, Habañeros, Jalapeños and Serranos. Texas pepper production will last until mid- to late December before shifting south of the border into Mexico. Texas veg will run through mid-April.

“We actually got off to an earlier start in Texas than we normally do,” said Jeff Brechler, who works in sales at J&D. “Our volume was limited in New Jersey this fall due to a hurricane and excessive rains. With Texas product coming on sooner, we were able to step in to ensure a seamless transition to supply our customers.”

He told The Produce News Nov. 16 that volumes are increasing and movement has been brisk due to the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

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Like its popular HoneySweet onions, personal seedless watermelons, sold under the ‘Little Bear’ brand name, have become a signature item for J&D Produce.

While J&D supplies a full line of vegetable items, which are all marketed under its “Little Bear” brand, a big focus of late has been on its proprietary HoneySweet mild onion. Currently, production is coming out of Peru, but it will shift to Mexico in January before transitioning to Texas in March and then New Mexico in June.

Additionally, J&D is launching an onion program in Vidalia, which will kick off in mid-April and continue until about September. The multiple production areas give credence to J&D’s philosophy of “chasing the sun to provide a consistent supply of the mildest onion in the world.”

Mr. Brechler said that J&D’s commitment to providing the best quality for the HoneySweet onion — and all products — is unwavering.

“We are extremely devoted to the sweet onion category, and [company owner] Jimmy Bassetti sees huge growth potential,” said Mr. Brechler. “But there needs to be a better understanding on the retail end to grow the category. Given the right product - a consistently mild onion - this can be easily achieved.

“As a grower, we invest in these different growing areas,” he continued. “We are not just a handler, we have a vested interest in the commodity. We are making the necessary investments, whether it be machinery, infrastructure, food safety or packaging. The customers understand that it is a premium product and recognize the costs involved to produce a package.”

The HoneySweet onion registers a consistently mild average on the pungency scale and a tighter range of readings, according to Mr. Brechler, who said that other sweet onions have a higher average and broader pungency range. This has helped the HoneySweet attract and maintain a devoted customer base.

In fact, Mr. Brechler said that demand for the HoneySweet has grown so steadily that movement of the product is switching from a push-through to a pull-through, with consumers asking for the product because they taste the difference.

Aside from its HoneySweet onions, personal watermelons have become another signature item for J&D Produce, according to Mr. Brechler. Supplies will start coming out of Mexico in mid-December to early January and continue into about May before production begins in Texas. The deal then moves to the Southeast and up the East Coast into the mid-Atlantic in August. New Mexico caps off domestic production, starting in September and lasting into October.

With J&D Produce celebrating its 25th year in business, Mr. Brechler said that the company is more focused on quality than ever before.

“Jimmy Bassetti has instilled a culture of quality in the company, and we continue to put an emphasis on the quality and consistency of our products,” said Mr. Brechler. “If we have product that does not meet our high standards, we are not afraid to call a customer and say, ‘this isn’t right, so were not going to load it,’ as opposed to sticking it in there and hoping it makes it through. Our customers respect us for making that call and not putting them in a difficult position.”

The firm also has dedicated itself to the highest level of food safety, and it recently announced personnel changes in that end of its business.

Mr. Brechler said that John Chien is joining J&D Produce as quality and technical director, with oversight over all products and all locations. Mr. Chien, who previously worked at Bolthouse Farms in Bakersfield, CA, has expertise with GAPs and GMPs and is well versed with the science side and the audit side. “We have been actively seeking a director for over a year now, and we are fortunate that John has decided to join us,” he said. “He will bring a lot of experience and will fill the final piece of the puzzle for us.”

Also, Georgina Caballero has joined the company and will concentrate on working with growers in Mexico to make sure they are up to date on GAPs and GMPs, and will oversee audits conducted both on the facility and field levels.

Finally, Monica Martinez, who has been with J&D in the food-safety department, has been given the additional responsibilities of overseeing food-safety protocols and GAPs in Texas, both with contract growers and company farms.