LOXAHATCHEE, Fla. — A southern vegetable shipper is expanding into tomatoes and pushing distribution capabilities further north.
J&J Produce Inc. has started growing vine-ripe and grape tomatoes and is expanding its eastern Tennessee distribution center coverage to more efficiently ship produce to northeastern and Midwestern customers.
Though J&J has dabbled in tomatoes in the past, it has become more serious in the category by assembling a staff of tomato sales veterans to help sell to retail and foodservice customers, said Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing.
Heading J&J’s tomato program are Joe Caldwell and Ryan Peirce, who work in purchasing, and Michael Lacey, in sales.
Caldwell used to work in purchasing for FreshPoint North Florida, Jacksonville, for 15 years, and Peirce was general manger at tomato repacker Green Hill Farms Produce Inc., New Market, Tenn. Before Green Hill, Peirce ran a produce delivery service for restaurants, Peirce’s Produce, in Temecula, Calif.
Lacey was director of sales for Plant City-based Ag-Mart Produce Inc., which does business as Santa Sweets Inc., and was in sales and marketing for Coosemans Tampa Inc.
Rayfield said the additions bring a wealth of experience.
“We have wanted to put together a year-round program on tomatoes, not just a one-time planting,” he said. “Customers have told us that tomatoes are an area they would like to see us focus our efforts on. We are putting together a great team.”
Though he declined to go into specifics on volume, Rayfield said J&J initially planted 100 acres for the fall but December freezes sliced production in half.
J&J, which also plans to receive tomatoes from other growers, has tomato acreage in the southwest Florida growing regions of Immokalee, LaBelle and Clewiston.
While J&J has sourced and packed seasonal Tennessee products from the distribution center located east of Knoxville, Tenn., the addition of Peirce makes the center a year-round operation that can truck produce to more than half of the U.S. population overnight, Rayfield said. He said J&J plans to pack a full line of vegetables via value-added repacking throughout the year.
J&J grows and ships Florida, Georgia and Tennessee bell peppers, cucumbers, squash, eggplants, and Dominican Republic and Honduras cucumbers, colored bell peppers, specialty peppers, squash and other vegetables.