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Vantaggio adds production areas, works toward year-round Bell and cuke programs

Vantaggio, a grower-shipper-distributor headquartered in San Diego specializing in cucumbers and colored Bell peppers, has added new production areas this year, with an eye to becoming a year-round supplier of both products.

“We have set a goal for the company to be year-round in colored Bell peppers and cucumbers, and we are getting there slowly but surely,” said Brent Keefer, president.

Ross Keefer and Brent Keefer

“For the past three years, Vantaggio has made a real concentrated effort to directly own as much of the farming activity as we can,” Mr. Keefer said Nov. 22. With the addition of two new farming operations in Mexico this season, “we have three companies in Mexico that farm directly for Vantaggio that we basically control.”

Mr. Keefer and his brother, Ross, founded Vantaggio. While both brothers are involved in sales, for the most part, “I am in charge of farming and Ross is in charge of sales,” he said.

The company farms in California as well as in Mexico.

This will be the first year “with our own farm down in Culiacan [Sinaloa] that will supply product up to Nogales [AZ]. And we are growing red Bell peppers down there this year,” Mr. Keefer said. Also, “we are building a new packingshed” there, “so we are starting to make a pretty decent first-year investment into the Culiacan area” in order to be able to “control our own product.”

By having more control over the quality of the product from the ground up, Vantaggio is in a better position to give customers “more of what they want,” he said.

For nearly eight years, “we have had our own farm” in the Caborca area in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico,” Mr. Keefer said. “We do cucumbers and squash” and various other products in that operation starting in October and continuing into December, he said. “That deal is going to finish up pretty soon.”

Vantaggio’s third company-owned farming operation in Mexico is in the La Paz area at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. That, like the Culiacan operation, is new this year. “That will be Bell peppers as well,” he said. But that product will be brought up to San Diego, not Nogales. The harvest in La Paz is expected to start late March.

In addition, “we market some product for some growers,” Mr. Keefer said. “We are partners” with two growers in northern Baja.

The product is packed in the “Vantaggio” label, he said.

With the addition of the new growing operations this season, Vantaggio will be “pretty much year-round on colored Bell peppers,” he said. Cucumbers are not there yet, however. “We are missing the Culiacan season for cucumbers, which is basically, for us, January through mid-April. We don’t have any cucumbers during that time frame.” But there are plans to close that gap soon. That will probably be achieved by expanding the new Culiacan farming operation to include cucumbers. “If we found the right partnership opportunity, we would pursue that,” he said. But “we are pretty focused right now on figuring out how to do it directly for ourselves.”

Increases in production will come as the customer demand shows that it is justified, he said.

The company’s red Bell production in Culiacan will start this year probably right around Christmas, Mr. Keefer said. That will carry the company through late April, overlapping with La Paz, which was expected to start late March.

Vantaggio would generally be growing yellow Bell peppers as well as red, Mr. Keefer said. However, as the peppers in Culiacan are being grown open field this year, the company is only growing the red Bells. “We are also in the process of trying to procure some shadehouses for some land we have. Until we get into the shadehouse production, we are going to stay away from doing ... colors other than red.”

All of the sales are handled from San Diego. “We use a third-party warehouse in Nogales” for product coming up from Culiacan and Caborca, he said.

One of the major benefits Vantaggio has to offer customers, according to Mr. Keefer, is its small size. “Because we are small and because the ownership is directly on the phone, we like to think that we have a real close contact with our customers and we are able to implement their requests very quickly,” he said.