(Feb. 3, UPDATED 10:00 a.m.)

In a break with tradition, the board of directors of family-owned and operated Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, Calif., has promoted Joe Pezzini to the post of chief operating officer, a position held in the past only by a family member.

“Joe is not a family member, but he is part of the family,” said Ed Boutonnet, president and chief executive officer of Ocean Mist. “That’s how we look at it.”

Pezzini has spent his entire professional career to date with the Ocean Mist family of companies, starting in 1983 as farm manager with Boutonnet Farms. In 2001, he became vice president of operations for Ocean Mist. The ground-up training plays a key role in the company’s success, Pezzini said.

“It says a lot about this organization that many of us have started from the fields and worked our way through the organization learning all the disciplines,” he said.

Pezzini will continue with his operational duties and will be responsible for the company’s strategic planning, Boutonnet said. Pezzini is a leader who is suited to help plan and direct our growth and success, he said.

No change in strategy

Pezzini’s promotion does not signal major changes in strategy for Ocean Mist. Rather, Boutonnet said, the promotion is one more step in the process of preparing the company’s next generation of leaders to take Ocean Mist and its affiliated companies into the future.

“We would not be where we are today without the dedication of our employees,” Boutonnet said. “Their unwavering dedication and commitment speaks volumes.”

New board members

Simultaneous with Pezzini’s promotion Jan. 30, two new members were named to the Ocean Mist board: Mark Reasons, representing the Pieri-Reasons family, replaced his father, Don Reasons, while Troy Boutonnet was named to represent Boutonnet Farms. Both of the new board members have been with the company for more than 30 years. Ed Boutonnet continues as board chairman.

Eye to cutting costs

Ocean Mist is nearing the 85th anniversary of its founding. The biggest challenge facing the company is producing quality crops at the lowest possible cost, Pezzini said.

“We’ve been looking at 20% to 30% increases in the cost of producing the same acre of lettuce and vegetables,” he said.

Although diesel fuel prices have dropped substantially from the $5-a-gallon peak of mid-2008, everything that is touched by petroleum has not followed suit, Pezzini said. That includes seed coatings, fertilizer, packaging, films and containers. Prices for all those items have increased considerably, he said.

In the face of those increasing costs and the national recession, Boutonnet remains optimistic. California’s coastal region offers the best soil, water, microclimates and infrastructure in the world for summer vegetable growing, he said.

Pezzini, Ocean Mist Farms excited about future