Grower-shippers of Mexican greenhouse vegetables say there’s one word that remains central to success in the foodservice business: consistency.
“The presentation of the product makes a big difference,” said Jaime Garza, owner of Pharr, Texas-based Bebo Distributing Inc.
Growers say they can get that by growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other items in protected environments.
“I think some foodservice companies are starting to see the value,” said Gregg Biada, vice president of Bonita Springs, Fla.-based Global Fresh Import & Export, a subsidiary of Springfield, Ill.-based Tom Lange Co.
Price has traditionally played a crucial role in the foodservice sector, but buyers are seeing other compelling reasons to buy greenhouse products, some shippers said.
The consistency in the quality of the product brings assurances that foodservice procurers need, said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.
“This is where protected culture starts to play a role,” he said.
“The food safety demands from foodservice are well-served by the medium- and lower-tech greenhouses. In that 100 acres, I’m not shifting my production seven times to seven different locations like in field operations. You’re literally operating at the same facility and you’ve got that under control.”
Safety measures are easier to implement and control in protected environments, which has become increasingly important, DeSchouwer said.
“It’s easier and efficient to implement the food safety measurements you need in that one facility,” he said.
“It’s easy to block those acres off and make sure there’s no wild animals that can reach your production. You keep little animals like rats and mice out. It’s quite simple to do in protected culture. Not so, in open-field operations.”
Some growers have recognized that value and have moved some of their production into protected environments, DeSchouwer said.
“It’s a gradual shift,” he said.
“Growers in the U.S. have the money. The problem for them is can they find the climate or location that will enable them to do so? There are some who are trying out 1 or 2 acres of greenhouses, very small plots.”
Having that element of control is key to success in foodservice sales, said Chuck Ciruli, partner with Rio Rico, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros.
“It helps, because it gives us real consistency,” he said.