“Soft pricing is a tricky topic,” Steven Ceccarelli, co-owner with his wife, Bethany, of Farm Fresh Produce in Faison, NC, told The Produce News. “It is normal for someone to undercut the market, but it hurts everyone. Market prices this year should certainly be better. Although January is always a little slower for domestic sales, and that is expected this time of year.”
However, things kick off on the export side in January, and that’s where Farm Fresh Produce kicks in. The company is very strong in exports, and Mr. Ceccarelli said he is very happy to report this news.
“And we are presently very pleased with the condition of our inventory,” he added. “Between all of our invested interests with the growers we deal with, we feel great about the volumes and quality we have to offer. We absolutely expect that our sweet potato supplies will last through the 2013 crop, and as we head into summer prices usually rise domestically, which should give growers some relief.
Europe is highly receptive to Farm Fresh Produce. Mr. Ceccarelli said its strongest offshore markets today are the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Ireland, and it’s working on the German market.
“We have also extended our range all the way into Russia,” he added. “With higher volumes than last year, we have noticed nice growth. Overall we’re seeing about a 20 percent hike in business this year.”
The company also focuses strongly on its domestic market. Its U.S. distribution extends along the East Coast, from New England to Tampa, FL, and as far west as Wisconsin. The company recently hired a new staff member to focus specifically on domestic sales and marketing.
“We just hired Debbie Gray, who now holds the position of office manager and domestic sales representative,” said Mr. Ceccarelli. “Debbie has about 12 years of experience in the sweet potato industry specifically, and she has good experience with the other fresh produce items we handle, such as traditional cabbages, Napa cabbage, bok choy, Bell peppers and squashes.”
The company also recently crossed a major milestone. It just moved into a new office space in Faison, NC. It purchased the office buildings from Dr. William Thornton, a former U.S. astronaut who flew on the Challenger space shuttle in 1983 and again in 1985. He was born in Faison.
“We like this interesting history,” said Bethany Ceccarelli. “Faison is a small town and our new location is right in the downtown area. We had to invest a lot to build out the structure to suit our own business needs, but also to help liven up Faison. Like Dr. Thornton, we love Faison, and renovations such as this encourage growth in the community.”
The four units that Farm Fresh Produce built are 2,800 square feet. They are currently working out of two of the units, which can comfortably fit 15 to 20 people, with plenty of space for expansion. The company kept its previous nearby location so that it could utilize the refrigeration it provides.
In late January the couple was gearing up to exhibit at Fruit Logistica in Berlin Feb. 6-8. And it has prepared more than ever for its European markets this year.
“We have developed in-house cookbooks in multiple languages, including English, French, Spanish, Dutch and German,” said Mr. Ceccarelli. “And each is geared demographically to each country’s specific culture and market. For example, the English language cookbook offers numerous mash recipes because they are popular in the U.K. The German version offers a sweet potato beer recipe, which we felt the culture there would relate to well.”
The Ceccarellis will be handling out the cookbooks at its Fruit Logistica exhibition booth in the U.S. pavilion at the expo.
“And our customers can take the cookbook and put their own name on it and use it as a marketing tool,” Mr. Ceccarelli added. “It’s is a very powerful promotional device that we invite all of our customers to take advantage of.”