GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Mexico boasts many advantages in producing vegetables: climate, land, labor and technology.

During the AMHPAC convention for Mexico’s protected horticulture producers, an Aug. 25 workshop sought to answer the question: Is Mexico the ideal candidate to supply vegetables to the continent?

Panel members from U.S. retail, foodservice, importing and grower-shipper segments helped identify answers to that question.

Panelist Robert Garfield, senior vice president of Food Marketing Institute’s Safe Quality Food Institute, said Mexican producers need to take extra steps to let U.S. consumers know about the quality of their product.

He said 97% of consumers express confidence in food produced in the U.S. but only 63% felt that way about food produced in Latin America.

Mexico exporters seek U.S. consumer acceptance That perception means Mexican supplies must be a step above their competition, Garfield said.

Rich Dachman, vice president of produce for Houston-based Sysco Corp., said an untapped opportunity are U.S. Department of Agriculture feeding programs that require U.S. product.

He acknowledged political considerations make that opportunity out of reach.

Asked whether the local produce trend in the U.S. poses a threat to sales, panel member Mark Konstan, director of Livermore, Calif.-based Produce Exchange, said, “Mexico should not worry about local produce.”

Dachman said he has more confidence in the safety and quality of Mexican product because, unlike small local operations exempted from stricter standards under the Food Safety Modernization Act, it must meet FDA food safety inspection standards.

Panelist Bobby Patton, marketing vice president for tomato marketer NatureSweet, had a different take on the effect of local produce.

“It’s great,” he said.

He said locally grown tomatoes increase consumers’ taste for tomatoes and increase sales, which year-round suppliers can take advantage of.