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Houston: A vast playground for domestic and international produce business

Houston is brimming with electric diversity and expanding markets.

From an impressive skyline of glass and steel to humming industrial parks, Houston is a vast and varied playground for businesses of all types.

The produce industry, too, is well represented with a generous number of receivers and distributors serving the food industry, sourcing both locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as Mexico’s finest.

It would not come as much of a surprise that International Exports, Inc., based in Houston, is all about trade. The company’s director, Ihab Azzam, specializes in shipping fresh produce to customers around the world by boat and air.

Among Azzam’s top exports are berries, baby carrots, lettuce, celery, avocados, and sweet potatoes, shipped by air, and apples, which are shipped via sea vessel.

“The last few years have shown a double-digit growth each quarter for avocados specifically,” said Azzam. “We continue to see growth in other commodities as we expand market reach internationally; however, the avocado business is the most noticeable.”

This rise in avocado demand is not confined to Houston or Texas, as pretty much every supplier and consumer knows, it’s across the board. Experts estimate that in the United States alone, demand for the fruit is growing 10 to 12 percent annually.

The Asian markets served by International Exports mirrors U.S. demand, likely fueled by China’s growing health-conscious middle class who desire the heart-healthy fruit. To keep up with booming demand and his company’s growth, Azzam says the company opened an office in Korea to serve expanding East Asian markets.

On the import side, Leo Villa, Jr., produce manager for Tex-Mex Produce, LLC, cites Mexican grey squash, Mexican green onions, and a couple herbs—spearmint and greenhouse-grown verdolagas (Mexican parsley), as well as cactus leaf as the company’s biggest sellers to their niche Hispanic markets.

Due to the limited scope and specialty nature of its produce lineup, Tex-Mex Produce has yet to experience any reverberations from the new North American trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

“We haven’t been affected,” Villa says, as most of his imports are lesser known items and not the “big” fruits and vegetables usually affected by tariffs.

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