Fresh Advancements beefs up specialties
Despite the fact that he lost money importing finger limes last winter, Anthony Pitoscia is trying again with a shipment from Australia.
“People don’t know what to do with it,” said Pitoscia, vice president of Fresh Advancements Inc. at the Ontario Food Terminal, Toronto.
The gherkin-shaped fruit with the exploding pearls of juice won the innovation award at last year’s Fruit Logistica in Berlin.
“They should have called it lime caviar,” Pitoscia said. “It’s good with sushi.”
At $40-45 wholesale for a 2.2-pound box, price is also a barrier, he said.
At this year’s Berlin show, Pitoscia planned to source countries offering a tree-ripened mango program.
Global Fresh imports butternut squash, citrus
Toronto-based Global Fresh Import & Export Inc., the Canadian division of the Tom Lange Co., is seeing higher sales and volumes in its orange category and growing demand for easy-peel and seedless oranges, said Stephen Rodrigues, national sales manager for Canada.
Among the company’s imports this winter are seedless kinnow mandarins from Pakistan.
“We’re seeing more product coming into North America from places like Pakistan and South Africa because the economy isn’t particularly good in their first-choice markets of Europe and Russia,” he said.
On the vegetable front, Global Fresh plans to bring in butternut squash from Argentina within the next month.
“The weather last year wasn’t particularly good for squash, so there will probably be a shortage. We will bring it in to help fill the market,” he said.
The biggest challenge he sees this year is tracking containers and getting loads shipped across the border quickly.
“You have to deal with good growers because the product is coming a long way,” he said.
Ippolito Produce finds success with squash
Ippolito Produce Ltd. in the Ontario Food Terminal, Toronto, has built a loyal following for the squash it’s bringing directly from a shipper in Nogales, Ariz., under a variety of labels.
“We’ve handled squash before through our warehouse, but doing it direct gives us more opportunity to expand the category,” said Jim Gordon, operations manager.
Gordon said the deal was a bit of a struggle in the beginning with the soft squash, “but now I think people see us as a destination for that product.”
Ippolito is also expanding its offerings from B&W Quality Growers in Fellsmere, Fla., with red baby spinach and pea tendrils, he said, and it’s working with a few more local growers in the Bradford area north of Toronto.
Koornneef Produce preps for greenhouse
The Ontario greenhouse season has begun, said Fred Koornneef, president of Grimsby-based Koornneef Produce Ltd., which owns a stall inside the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto.
Koornneef expects the first local greenhouse tomatoes Feb. 20, followed by clusters a few days later, with local peppers starting March 1.
A new crop of local greenhouse English cucumbers began in early January, he said. His mini cucumber supplier now grows under lights year-round.
“Customers appreciate the quality of our mini cukes,” he said.
“They’re a hard item to grow and get consistent quality. When they come from other countries they seem to go yellow very quickly. Ontario stuff holds up quite well.”
Koorneeff said sales are up and he had a great 2011.
“Moving into the market was the best business decision I ever made,” he said.
“Our staff has more than doubled, and there are lots of people applying for jobs so we get to pick the best of the best.”
North American Produce boosts cherry volume
Steve Davidson of North American Produce Buyers Ltd. in the Ontario Food Terminal plans to pack and sell the products of five British Columbia cherry growers this summer.
“They’re doing a fabulous job, but we had to convince them that our customers want the quality cherries they used to send overseas, and they’re willing to pay for it,” Davidson said.
Last summer, North American sold black cherry Tabletree juice from LW Truscott Farms in Creston, British Columbia, one of the growers it will pack for this year.
Along with the company’s Chilean program, Davidson said North American will be able to offer cherries 10 to 12 months a year.
“Chile has the best fruit in winter, and it gives our customers a reliable, consistent program from November to June, when California starts,” he said.
Tomato King plans packaged produce line
Tomato King’s goal this year is to achieve Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points certification in its newly-renovated warehouse and launch a line of packaged produce, said president Vince Carpino at the Ontario Food Terminal.
“We’ve been working on HACCP for a while, taking baby steps because there’s so much work involved. With the industry going in that direction, it’s something we have to do,” Carpino said.
Renovations to the company’s 46,000-square-foot facility are 80% complete, he said, with the general warehouse space “pretty much up to speed” and a new racking system in place.
He expects Tomato King’s new packing line to be operational by mid-February, or as soon as it meets HACCP specifications. Corn, broccoli and peppers are a few of the items being considered for the line.
“Customers are asking for packaging, and the fewer hands that touch the produce the happier they’ll be. Today you’ve got to add some value to the product,” he said.
Tomato King sells produce to independent retailers and jobbers throughout southern Ontario.
Veg-Pak Produce to open second space
Importer, distributor and packager Veg-Pak Produce Ltd., Toronto, is in negotiations to purchase a second facility, said president Vic Carnevale, who hopes the space will be ready by summer.
“Our packaging side is growing so quickly, we have lines we’re not using because we don’t have the space,” Carnevale said.
Best-sellers include Pop-I spinach, vegetable trays, onion varieties from pearl to Spanish and Indian vegetables in trays, he said.
The company is considering using one building for packaging and another for storage, Carnevale said.
Veg-Pak continues to bring in ethnic vegetables to meet the growing demand in Chinese and south Asian supermarkets in southern Ontario.
Wal-Mart tailors store to local customers
Nine-foot dragons and Chinese lanterns celebrated the Lunar New Year and Wal-Mart Canada’s first “Store of the Community,” recognizing the strong Asian customer base at the chain’s Scarborough Supercentre.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based chain uses census and market research data to identify multicultural population clusters around stores and tailors merchandise accordingly.
The Scarborough store, in northeastern Toronto, now offers an expanded produce section, live fish tanks, an Asian butcher shop and bakery.
“Our customers have responded to this new offering very favorably,” said Jim Pilkington, director of the four-year-old Store of the Community program.
“They’re pleased to know they can find everything they need, including traditional Asian foods, all under one roof,” he said