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Nogales: Importers share successful strategies

The flow of produce from Mexico to Nogales, AZ, goes back decades and continues strong today—albeit with a few challenges.

Nogales distributors, however, are holding their own, endeavoring to keep up with new technology and consumer trends while also dealing with weather conditions, labor shortages, food safety concerns, and ramped up competition on both sides of the border for every fresh produce dollar.

Consumer trends can be brief or have a long-lasting impact. One perceptible trend Nogales distributors point to is consumers being more discerning in their produce choices.

Matt Mandel, vice president of operations at SunFed, says that while there may tend to be random spikes in demand for specific produce due to fads, such as Brussels sprouts, today’s consumer emphasis has moved past the basic aesthetic appeal of produce, typical 10 years ago.

“Now it’s about ‘how do we get that same visual quality, but have it taste better’? So there are a lot more variables going into the choices that farmers are making,” Mandel said. “If you’re able to consistently deliver great-tasting fruit and great-looking fruit, that’s what will really get the consumer to go back, buy more of it, and eat more of it.”

Consumers have also become more intrigued by organics, especially as pricing has fallen in some segments.

Alex Madrigal, president of Covilli Brand Organics, Inc., said, “I definitely see a little bit more demand. I believe people just want to eat healthier. It’s not a secret universe specific only to people on the coasts; there’s just a lot more information and people are more curious about it.”

Guillermo Martinez, general manager at Wilson Produce, LLC, also points to increasing demand for organics, with the industry as a whole rising to this trend. Several years ago, there were not enough producers to meet demand, but now he sees established growers have become more efficient with organic production, so it is now worthwhile for them to cater to this trend.

Taking into account the rising interest in organic fare, Produce House, LLC has expanded into the category. The importer and distributor decided to start off in a small way by testing the market for butternut squash and spaghetti squash, according to Raquel Espinoza, the company’s director for sales and marketing.

“The interest (in organics) has always been present,” Espinoza said. “Now it’s more prevalent.” And as the firm gains market share in this segment, it may expand its product line to include other organic vegetables such as cucumbers and bell peppers.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full supplement.