Since November 2010, Martha Montoya, founder and chief executive officer of Orange, Calif.-based Los Kitos Produce LLC & Farms, has helped match minority strawberry growers with buyers for their product.
Montoya also helped secure funding from Rabobank for more than 40 growers from San Diego to Salinas.
And the Colombian native recently took 10 growers from Salinas, Calif., on a field trip to Colombia, which she says produces the world’s best strawberries.
“I gave them a good tour of the Colombian strawberry growing region,” she said, where the U.S. growers chatted with their Colombian counterparts, exchanged ideas and “had fun.”
The company sells their product under the Los Kitos brand in Hispanic supermarkets throughout the U.S. as well as in major mainstream chains like Save-A-Lot, Wal-Mart and Kroger and in U.S. Army commissaries.
“I explain that I want to put together lot of smaller growers and help them get the most return for their money so they can keep growing,” she said. “The retail buyers have been very kind to me and the company.”
Besides Montoya, four salesmen handle sales for Los Kitos, each of whom has had experience as a retail produce buyer.
“I’m blessed with the guys I have,” she said. “They understand what we are doing.”
Montoya has had an extensive career in produce.
Before establishing her own company, she sourced product worldwide for several grower-shippers.
She owns a similar company in Mexico called Los Kitos Frutas and also owns a citrus packinghouse in California’s Central Valley, which also caters to minority growers. She also has land in North Carolina, where she is converting tobacco farms to strawberry ranches and growing other commodities, as well.
Montoya, a syndicated cartoonist, uses cartoons on the company’s packaging and on its website, loskitos.com, where visitors can follow a daily comic strip.
“Everything we do is fun,” she said.
As a member of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, she even has the ear of Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.
She said she told Bernanke about the importance of using the Community Reinvestment Act to support rural interests, not just urban areas.
“They listen to what I have to say,” she said.