Attendees heard Paul Mastronardi, president and chief executive officer of Mastronardi Produce, outline his experience with the seed company’s varieties Sept. 25 at the Enza Zaden Research USA facility.
Display tables showed off finished products from Enza Zaden clients including Tanimura & Antle, Earthbound Farm, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, Wilson Produce and Gills Onions.
Processors attending included Fresh Express and Taylor Farms.
“We’re working closer with the whole chain — shippers, packers and ultimately retailers — so we get to know what the consumer wants,” said Juan Labastida, marketing specialist for Enza Zaden Mexico S.A. de C.V. “If the market wants a lettuce that’s half green and half red, we’re working on that. If it wants a baby leaf that has more shelf life, we’re working on that.”
Enza Zaden’s spinach program is growing, said Drew Huston, crop specialist for Enza Zaden Research USA.
“We’re filling the pipeline faster and trying to keep up with the new (downy mildew) races,” he said. “That’s the hardest part with spinach here and in Yuma.”
“In the Salinas Valley, the whole baby leaf market is even or down a little,” Huston said. “So Enza has its own Eazyleaf varieties that are in the field longer than baby leaf but get the same product model in the end. They’re bigger plants, but you cut it and get more pounds and shelf life.”
Besides leafy greens, the showcase featured peppers, squash, cauliflower, leeks. herbs and other items. Vitalis Organic Seeds items were on view as well.
“If you look at (Enza Zaden’s) varieties, you see Campari and Y.E.LO. (have) won 38 awards in the last seven years for flavor,” said Mastronardi, who markets those tomatoes under the Sunset label. “Working with Enza has been very key to our success.”
But sometimes success came slowly. Campari was no overnight hit from its 1995 introduction.
“We almost canceled the program after three years,” Mastronardi said. “So it’s not an instant success. You have to believe in what you have and keep pushing and eventually it will pay off.”
He laid out milestones in Mastronardi Produce’s marketing and sustainability practices and spoke briefly about competition.
“I have over 50 to 100 competitors in the greenhouse market,” he said. “They’re the last people I currently worry about. I worry now about the farmers markets.
“Farmers markets are starting to steal a big share of the produce sales happening out there,” he said. “When people shop at the farmers market, that’s our core customer — 80% female between 25 and 55. So we need to build a brand to differentiate ourselves.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there was $1 billion in farmers market sales in 2005, but more than $7 billion a year now, Even so, those numbers are probably underreported, Mastronardi said.