“There’s a market for Mexican imports because the produce is high quality,” emphasizes Losolla. While price is important, he says most American consumers buy produce with their eyes. “For a lot of Americans, quality is number one,” he adds.
“I think Mexico can pump premium quality produce into the United States, day in and day out,” Losolla continues. “That’s why we’re seeing the import rates increasing, because there’s demand for it. People are buying it, and customers are asking for it by name. They go to the markets and ask for Mexican cucumbers, Mexican squash, or Mexican tomatoes.”
To top it off, many Mexican suppliers now offer fruit and vegetables all year. “We rarely have gaps, except a little bit in the summer—and we’re even starting to fill those gaps,” Losolla explains. Marketing is also key, keeping Mexican-grown produce front and center with consumers. “They’re exposed to our product all the time; they understand it’s good product.”
Labor & Regulation
Another reason for the spike in Mexico imports is the low cost of labor south of the border. “In the United States, our labor is at a minimum of $8 an hour, whereas in Mexico it’s $8 a day,” points out Jeff Fawcett, sales manager with Bagley Produce Company, Inc. in Edinburg, TX. “That’s a huge difference, so the competition is lopsided. We’re not even competing on the same baseball field.”
Fawcett also cites the U.S.’s regulatory atmosphere as helping his Mexican counterparts in growing and shipping. “There’s heavy regulation on the U.S. side,” he says. “We’re regulating ourselves out of being an agriculture country.”
Losolla counters, believing Mexican growers face plenty of oversight on their side of the border. “We’ve proven ourselves to consumers here in the United States, that we grow and compete at the highest level when it comes to food safety,” he remarks.
“The government is certainly not making it easy for Mexican importers, and rightfully so,” Losolla continues. “They’re demanding we comply with all food safety regulations, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is stepping up with even more demands with the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) laws.”
He also points out that U.S. suppliers would not source Mexican produce without this level of scrutiny. “The big companies in the United States that can’t produce their own product in the winter wouldn’t be buying from or growing in Mexico if Mexican growers weren’t playing by the rules,” he stresses. “So I believe that’s another reason why imports are on the rise.”