Whether grower-shippers specialize in organic or combine it with conventional, they see continued opportunity in Mexican fruits and vegetables.
“We’re expanding our organic program,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.
“It’s about 15% on roma and grape tomatoes and around 20% for strawberries.”
“We’re hearing from customers that their organic sales keep growing, so we’re trying to match organic product growth to market demand. Going into a recession, we felt we’d see a decrease in organic but it’s been to the contrary. They’re not on fire, but it’s very steady growth.”
Miguel Crisantes, president of Sunny Valley Organics, Nogales, Ariz., predicts up to 40% growth in volume on staple tomatoes like heirlooms, roma, grape and vine-ripened this year, and up to 12% growth on specialty tomatoes.
“We’re increasing our lines in tomatoes to include cherries, romas and tomatoes sold on the vine,” Crisantes said.
“Last year we did them as a trial, this year we’re going full force. We’ll be promoting that as well as our heirlooms and mini heirlooms.”
Mindful of February’s freeze, growers are trying to protect that volume.
“Last year was a devastating year for most growers in northern Mexico,” Crisantes said.
“We’re doubling our efforts to cover everything, get it under plastic as much as we can.”
Sunny Valley Organics also does bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, colored bell peppers and mini peppers, butternut and spaghetti squash, plus watermelons, among others.
“Organic is becoming mainstream, not a sideshow,” Crisantes said.
“There’s an increase in demand and we’re trying to keep up.”
Sunny Valley, a specialist in organic for 25 years, also grows in California and Arizona.
Steve Lefevre, sales manager for Wholesum Family Farms in Nogales, anticipates 48,000 cases of organic tomatoes on-the-vine in November, a number that could reach 70,000 in February and 85,000 in March.
Wholesum Family Farms also does beefsteak tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, green and red bell peppers, hard squash and zucchini, among others.
“We’ve been pretty much 20% growth for the last 10 years,” Lefevre said.
“You still have a lot of organic retailers adding stores every year: Whole Foods (Market), Earth Fare, Sprouts (Farmers Market), Sunflower (Farmers Market). They’re growing tremendously and have good organic programs.”
Other suppliers include the Giumarra Cos., which offers organic bell peppers, cucumbers, melons and tomatoes through its Nogales division.
In response to recent foodborne illnesses in the U.S. and Europe, Crisantes said, Sunny Valley Organics increased the frequency of its in-house audits, hiring four new staffers to do so.
“We’re doing our own audits every week instead of every six weeks, and maintaining independent audits by PrimusLabs,” he said.
“In response to the worldwide outbreaks, we’re keeping food safety on the front burner.”