Mexico: The Idaho of winter vegetables? - The Packer

Mexico: The Idaho of winter vegetables?

09/02/2011 09:06:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Let’s be honest. We here in the U.S. take for granted how good we have things sometimes.
Let’s narrow that broad statement down to one topic near and dear to all readers of The Packer — fresh fruits and vegetables.
The U.S. is blessed with a bounty of fresh produce grown across the nation, from heavyweight producers like California all the way down to countless local growers.
We’re also fortunate to have a couple of great neighbors — Mexico and Canada — who serve as markets for U.S. fruits and vegetables as well as suppliers to our market.
That’s why I was irritated, but not surprised, by some stats presented during a panel discussion at the recent AMHPAC convention.
AMHPAC, which represents Mexican greenhouse and shade house producers, assembled a panel of U.S. retail, foodservice, food safety and supplier executives to address the question of whether Mexico is the ideal candidate to supply vegetables to the continent.
One of the panel members, Robert Garfield, senior vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Food Marketing Institute’s Safe Quality Food Institute, said 63% of U.S. consumers express confidence in food produced in Latin America, compared to 97% for U.S. food.
That stat drives home the ignorance too many U.S. consumers suffer from regarding the origin of the food available 24 hours and day, seven days a week at the grocery store.
On an even sadder note, it suggests the suspicion and condescension some Americans hold regarding our southern neighbor color their views even in the produce aisle.
Maybe if that more than one-third of the produce-purchasing public knew how much less diverse grocers’ shelves and their own diets would be were it not for tomatoes, peppers and other winter vegetables from Mexico, they would wake up.
Lorna Christie, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association and keynote speaker at the convention, emphasized the need for the industry to tell its story.
It’s the same message PMA has been preaching to the industry for several years now as consumers have attached feel-good (and at times maybe a hint of do-gooder) sentiment to locally grown produce.
Like growers in the U.S., Mexican greenhouse and shade house producers have a compelling story that too few in the U.S. are aware of.
Touring a Cueto Produce colored bell pepper operation an hour or so south of Guadalajara I got to see that firsthand.
From the Israeli irrigation technology to the commitment to reduce pesticide use and carbon dioxide emissions, Cueto’s operation epitomizes a commitment to environmental responsibility and food safety.
Marketing a quality product, of course, goes a long way toward selling the public on it.
Panelist Mark Konstan, supply director of The Produce Exchange, Livermore, Calif., said Mexican producers should reduce their investment in image building and maximize their investment in substance, ensuring they grow and ship the highest quality vegetables.
Konstan’s idea has merit, but as we all know, in the U.S. image is everything, and perception is often reality.
Truth is, it’s very likely the majority of those expressing concern about Mexican vegetables have enjoyed them countless times without knowing it.
It would take some time and effort, but there’s no reason Mexico and vegetables couldn’t have the same connection in U.S. consumers’ minds that Idaho enjoys with its 
Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion

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Tom OBrien    
Bradenton fl.  |  September, 05, 2011 at 06:58 AM

Totally disagree. Pre NAFTA Florida was the winter capital of fresh fruits and vegetables for the eastern half of the USA and then Washington got involved and has done a great job of trying to destroy another American industry. We are not allowed to supply our energy needs our clothing needs and now the ability to feed ourselves. Why are so many American growers moving south to Mexico?? Why is it when a food safety issue happens in America the media is all over it and they destroy an industry(tomatoes come to mind) and then they find out the product came from Mexico its business as usual.

Mexican Guy    
Mexico  |  September, 05, 2011 at 02:49 PM

OF COURSE Mark Konstan wants mexican growers NOT to pesuade on the image of mexican growers, since his company (TPE) make a nice 50 % profit from brokering the mexican produce on the us market.

Mr. Avocato    
Houston, TX  |  September, 14, 2011 at 06:06 AM

I could not agree more. Here in Houston, the burger capital of the south, I would estimate 40% of burgers have some ingredient imported from Mexico. But God forbid we start talking about what the burger joints put in our burgers. Americans are ignorantly proud of their roots and as with everything else in life, education or lack of, makes it impossible for people to see beyond their prejudice. I've seen some amazing facilities in Mexico and they're the result of great foreign visionaries, and that's a threat some US Americans can't tolerate.

Tomato Rey    
Sonora  |  February, 09, 2013 at 03:49 AM

Mexican growers are leading the nation in the produce world. Brokers are a thing of the past. Mexican growers are moving towards "SEED TO FORK" Its intresting when a broker calls himself a grower.

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