East Coast Brokers quits tomatoes

11/16/2012 09:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

MULBERRY, Fla. — East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., one of Florida’s largest tomato grower-shippers, has stopped growing and shipping Florida tomatoes, owing creditors millions.

Batista Madonia Jr., East Coast Brokers and Packers IncDoug OhlemeierBatista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations for East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, Fla., displays some mature green tomatoes in November 2010. One of Florida’s largest tomato grower-shippers, East Coast has stopped growing and shipping Florida tomatoes.Court records show East Coast’s owners owe more than $15 million in liens and judgments to state and federal governments and crop production services. There also is a $5.6 million lien from Chicago wholesaler Anthony Marano Co.

Batista Madonia Jr., East Coast’s vice president of sales and operations, declined to comment.

A woman answering East Coast’s telephone on Nov. 14 said the company remains in operation but wasn’t shipping tomatoes.

In early October, Madonia told The Packer the company was preparing for Florida fall production but said he couldn’t go into specifics.

“We are in negotiations,” he said Oct. 4. “I can’t say we’re definitely not out of the tomato business. Our last harvesting was the spring. We didn’t go to Virginia this year. We took a season off to try to look at things. I will say the news of my demise is being greatly over-exaggerated.”

Two other Florida tomato growers have also stopped production.

Nobles-Collier Inc., Immokalee, Fla.Doug OhlemeierNobles-Collier Inc., Immokalee, Fla., this past season closed operations.Last spring, Immokalee-based Nobles-Collier Inc., stopped producing tomatoes and Palmetto-based Woody’s Tomato Corp., ceased operations.

Leading Florida tomato grower-shippers say East Coast didn’t plant any tomatoes for the season after exiting the summer Eastern Shore deal in Virginia.

“No one’s working there, they’re gone,” said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers. “They haven’t had a box of tomatoes (this season). They left part of their spring crop in the field. At one point, they were the largest player here.”

East Coast previously planted 1,500 Florida acres.

Batista Madonia Sr., president and chief executive officer, and his wife Evelyn Madonia, founded the company in 1956.

Batista Madonia Jr. said the family wanted to take a step back and take care of family issues after his sister Laurie’s death in April. She was a pharmaceutical and hospital executive.

Woody’s Tomato Corp., Palmetto, Fla., Doug OhlemeierWoody’s Tomato Corp., Palmetto, Fla., this past season closed operations.Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said it isn’t surprising some companies left the business.

“It’s obvious the deal has been rather tough for a couple of seasons,” he said. “That’s certainly manifesting itself by those long-term companies that appear to be exiting the business.


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jesus saucedo    
McAllen, TX  |  November, 16, 2012 at 10:17 PM

So know what is going to happen with the tomato suspension agreement U.S "Florida growers" wanted to put into effect against Mexico, and know the U.S. is going to have to go back and try to work some issues out with Mexican growers and then guess who has the upper hand.

Pando    
Laredo  |  November, 17, 2012 at 10:50 PM

It's a shame to watch companies that have been a pillar in the tomato business go under. (woodys,nobles,RVC,tomato man, severt,thomas etc..). 90 percent for the success of a business is administering costs and having employees protect the employer. Nafta was not the downfall of the companies, nor was competition from Mexico. Competition is good because it helps business stay on their toes and rethink the business mission. No debt, keep costs down and maintain customer relation are top priority in keeping a business afloat. In the produce business, it's not the company that makes most money that wins, it's the company who lasts the longest!

Ricardo    
Rio Rico  |  November, 19, 2012 at 10:26 AM

I do not see in the picture abandon production infrastructure, where are the greenhouses or shadehouses from Florida going out of business? Ohh!! no one built any over there, correct? I don't care what industry you are in, if you do not invest in research, production innovation, efficiency and become more competitive, you probably will go out of business. The consumer dose not have to pay more, because someone is inefficient , Right? If you can not deliver a high quality tomato, at a competitive price, you will go out of business. And that will happened in Florida, Mexico, Netherlands, or anywhere...

Sidney Robinson    
Redland, Florida 33031  |  November, 19, 2012 at 09:40 PM

PANDO, you said it right. "No debt, keep costs down, maintain customer relations" & I say maximize your operation--don't go hog wild and do more than last years yield if it was profitable or down. Pay your bills & keep your suppliers happy. You're right, NAFTA was not totally the downfall of the companies---just plain good marketing & perseverance, competition builds strength in any endeavor of life.

Barbara Sayles, Director    
Gleaners/Florida  |  November, 20, 2012 at 02:50 PM

Would there be a possiblity for our volunteers to come in and glean what is not being harvested?

AERT    
DOVER, FLORIDA  |  August, 15, 2013 at 10:08 PM

GLEAN WHAT? NOTHING IS LEFT OF THE PRODUCE.

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