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Vision Produce uses rare model to increase Mexican production

The three arms of Vision Produce Co. launched a new mango program a year ago, and this year it is paying dividends.

Ben Brittain, executive vice president of the Texas arm, which goes by the moniker Vision Produce Partners of Texas, is anticipating a 30 percent increase in Mexican mango volume this year.

He said the companies, which include Vision Produce Co. in Los Angeles and Vision Import Group in River Edge, NJ, have their own buyers and quality-control people in place in Mexico to implement the model.

“Most U.S. importers buy their fruit from the sheds,” said Mr. Brittain. “We deal directly with the growers.”

la-foto-1Mexican mangos packed by Vision Produce under its ‘Van Gogh Mango’ label. (Photo courtesy of Vision Produce Co.)In essence, Vision contracts with the packingsheds to pack the fruit that the company has already purchased from the grower.

“Essentially it gives us better control of what goes in the box,” Mr. Brittain said. “Our own QC people are onsite and we also use our own harvesting crews.”

The firm deals with eight different packingsheds, which stretch from Chiapas to Sinaloa and includes all of the growing districts.

Mr. Brittain said the relationships with the packingsheds have been established and the company expects to continue to add volume each year within this framework.

The fruit will be packed in three different labels: “Van Gogh Mango,” “Little Princess” and “Top Quality.”

Speaking to The Produce News on Feb. 25, Mr. Brittain said that the season had gotten off to a smooth start with both Ataulfos and red-skinned mangos coming out of Chiapas and Oaxaca. “The Ataulfos are tight right now, but we have very good volume of the red mangos,” he said.

He added that Michoacán appears as if it is going to start a little bit later this year, “so it’s too early to get a good read on that crop. [Fruit from] Nayarit and Sinaloa has had a good bloom, so we think we will be fine there as well.”

Ronnie Cohen, vice president of sales and a partner in the New Jersey-based Vision Import Group, said that it is shaping up to be a very good Mexican mango deal.

“We are just winding down Peru this week, and I am going to start with Mexico later in the week,” he said. “The early fruit is typically a bit immature, so we backed off. But by March 1, we will be selling our first cartons of the ‘Van Gogh Mango.’“

He said that with the opening of the Texas office about a year ago, the 2012 season was a learning period. He echoed Mr. Brittain’s comments, saying, “We think we are going to grow by about 30 percent this year.”

While the California and Texas markets lean a little bit heavier to the yellow-skinned Ataulfo variety, he said that more of his customers prefer the red-skinned mango. “I’ll be somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 percent red and 25 percent yellow.”

And in the continuing evolution of the Mexican deal for Vision, he said that the three firms will concentrate on the standard 10-pound carton this year and hopefully introduce some new packs next year.

“Our philosophy is to grow a little slower,” said Mr. Cohen. “Volume is wonderful, but quality is more important. We are trying to take it a little slower and do it right.”

Like virtually everyone else contacted for this section, Mr. Cohen is extremely optimistic about the future of mango sales in the United States.

“I don’t even think we have scratched the surface,” he said. “I think we have great growth ahead of us for at least the next five to 10 years. And if we continue to grow like we have been growing, by then we should have more demand than supply. That will be a nice problem to have.”

Mr. Cohen’s optimism is fueled by what he sees as great potential in both the foodservice sector and conventional chains. He said fresh-cut mangos are a great value-added product for chefs as they can help any dish.

“I just saw an ad for the big Chili’s (restaurant) chain pushing a mango recipe,” he said.

And in the retail arena, he said the smaller ethnic chains have done a great job selling huge volumes of mangos.

“If the bigger chains were a little bit more malleable, I think they’d do a lot better,“ said Mr. Cohen. “By that I mean they typically want to plan three and four weeks out, but it is hard to do that with mangos. They could do a better job if they were able to take advantage of some good price points that we get from time to time.”