In past articles, we typically have studied companies with a more significant tenure and with a well-established footprint. However, there are some produce companies that don’t make it past their first year—as previously mentioned, approximately 20 percent of them.
The company we’re examining for this article is Stonehedge Produce Corporation (Stonehedge) BB #:375070, previously located in Atlanta, GA.
Stonehedge was listed by Blue Book on May 4, 2021, and reported as having suspended operations with outstanding obligations by April 26, 2022—less than a year from start to finish.
When first listed, the rating numeral (85) was assigned, meaning “detailed business report available upon request,” to reference the company operating without a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) license.
Blue Book rating numerals are assigned in place of a definite rating or a blank rating when there is noteworthy detail to convey. Operating without a PACA license is definitely noteworthy.
According to the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service’s website (ams.usda.gov), “In general, any person who buys or sells more than 2,000 pounds of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables in any given day is required to be licensed under the PACA.”
As it relates to Stonehedge, when first listed, the company advised that it had completed a PACA application but was still awaiting licensing.
Early Signs of Trouble
Shortly after being listed by Blue Book, a trade experience of “1X,” or “poor,” was shared.
As noted in the experience, Stonehedge wanted to purchase full containers of produce. But after agreeing to price, ownership became agitated when the seller requested references and reportedly stated they had “been in produce for years” and disconnected the call.
New companies enter the produce industry regularly, many with personnel who have industry experience. In the case of Stonehedge, it was shared with Blue Book that ownership had a small farming operation and had supplied retail and foodservice customers.
Regardless, Blue Book couldn’t find trackable industry experience for any of the personnel on file.
Three months after first being listed, Blue Book attempted to contact the company, but found and reported Stonehedge’s phones were disconnected. The listing was placed on “hold” as a result.
For the next two months, there was no evidence of ongoing operations until September 22, 2021, when active phone lines were recognized and reported.
In addition, Blue Book revised the company’s rating to (60)(83)—meaning “trade information not sufficient to support a definite rating” and “information regarding special circumstances available in the business report”—to reference that a PACA license still was not obtained.
In addition to the numeral assignment, Blue Book also reported that the “company continues to operate without a PACA license” via the Blue Book Credit Sheet.
After numerous Blue Book inquiries and no visible trading activity, the company obtained—and Blue Book reported—a new PACA license assignment on October 19, 2021.
Despite receiving the license, the rating line of (60)(83) continued due to multiple factors, including ownership’s continued unresponsiveness, ongoing phone line problems, personnel not reflecting produce experience, no references, and unanswered questions about its operating address.
This is an excerpt from the Credit and Finance feature in the January/February 2023 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.