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Harrison installs melon-sorting line, continues veggie program

Thomas Gonzales, Felipe Lorea, Scott Kosnick, T.J. Bauer, Brent Harrison and Danny Rivera of Al Harrison Co. Distributors.

NOGALES, AZ — Al Harrison Co. Distributors, here, which has traditionally been a shipper and distributor of watermelons and hard-shell squash, made some major changes in its operation last year, greatly expanding its product line and bringing on additional sales personnel to handle the new items.

Among the new items for the company were cucumbers, Bell peppers and organic Bell peppers, Roma tomatoes, eggplant, Zucchini squash, and sweet corn, which were primarily from the Culiacan area in Sinaloa, Mexico.

This year, “we are continuing our veggie program outside of the watermelon and hard-shell [squash] programs we have had in the past,” said President Brent Harrison.

With the introduction of the vegetable program, “we upgraded our facility with cooling units,” Mr. Harrison said. “With watermelon and hard shell, we didn’t really need much cooling.” Those are items “that didn’t require it.” But now with Bell peppers and some of the other vegetable items that need to be kept cool, the warehouse has rooms equipped with the refrigeration needed to maintain the cold chain.

New for the 2011-12 season is the installation of “a whole new [melon] sorting line in one of the warehouses for special orders,” he said. “Sometimes bins will come in mixed in sizing,” and in order to meet customer specifications, it is necessary to sort and repack the melons. The new electronic sorting line can sort not only for size but also for quality, identifying melons that have hollow heart or are overripe or bruised, for example.

“It is just something to have in-house to touch up loads if needed,” because the product does not always come in with every piece of fruit being number-one grade, he said. “There are times when product suffers” due to weather, “and you have to sort through it” to meet the demands of the marketplace.

In Harrison’s vegetable program, “we are going to be handling various growers in the Culiacan area that have shadehouse Bells and cukes,” he said. The Zucchinis and Romas are open field, and “probably 75 percent of our Bell pepper production will be organic.”

The company does not expect to increase its vegetable program this year for its second season primarily because of the problems encountered last year. The freeze in early 2011 “hurt everybody down there,” he said. So for 2011-12, “we are going to maintain the same type of program. We don’t see an increase in the acreage this year.” There are plans to expand in future years, however.

“We want to see this company grow,” Mr. Harrison said. “We have more than enough sales force at this time to make that happen. We are doing a lot of buying and selling outside of our own products so we have seen our revenues increase that way.”

The company has “a lot of contract sales that are lined up, and that brings a lot of growers to us,” he said. “Growers like those contracted prices, not having to play the market so much — more of a steady market out there for them.”

Harrison is continuing to grow its watermelon category, however. “We are fortunate to have year-round or almost-year-round programs” in the melons, with steady sales, Mr. Harrison said. In the Nogales deal, “we will have them from October through June.”

Once again, “we are going to have the mini-melons in the winter along with the conventional seedless,” he said.

The company also will continue with its hard-shell squash program consisting of Banana, Acorn, Spaghetti, butternut and Kabocha varieties.

“We are currently working on a Central American production program” for seedless watermelons, he said. It is not a new program. “We did some last year.” Those will “come off in February and March” and will be distributed “through our East Coast facility” in southern Florida rather than through Nogales.

Harrison continues with the same sales team it had going into the 2010-11 season, Mr. Harrison said.

In July 2010, he brought on a new partner and vice president, T.J. Bauer, along with three new salespeople: Scott Kosnik, Tomas Gonzales and Danny Rivera. Also on sales is Maritza Zamorano.

Mr. Harrison’s sister, Shelley Harrison-Valdivia, continues as a vice president as well as secretary/treasurer of the corporation.