Paradise Produce has remained successful in the COVID-19 era
When COVID-19 sent the nation into quarantine, the effects on a lot of businesses were devastating. And because of that, Joel Silverman is even more grateful than usual for Paradise Produce’s success.
“We surprisingly have come out a lot better than I could have ever anticipated a year ago,” said Silverman, president of the Lakeland, FL-based company.
Of course, COVID-19 has made an impact, but Paradise Produce has been navigating these troubled waters in large part because the company is well diversified, with 65 percent of its business coming from the retail sector, and the other 35 percent representing foodservice.
“Foodservice business, for all respects, has gone away,” Silverman said. “I think some of it’s coming back. Will it all come back? I’m very, very doubtful at this moment. I saw yesterday that 10 percent of the nation’s restaurants are permanently closed, so that’s going to have a huge bearing on the industry. The good part is the 65 percent of the company that is retail-oriented, we had some pretty good increases that took away some of the sting. It hasn’t accounted for all the losses, but there’s at least been enough business in the retail sector to keep us competitive and remain in business.”
One program that has helped the company survive is the Farmers to Family Food Box Program, the nationwide initiative in which the government offers contracts that produce companies bid on that allow them to provide food boxes to food pantries, churches and communities throughout the country.
“It’s really helped us to some extent,” Silverman said. “We have two or three companies that are putting up these food boxes. I have noticed a big difference as far as the boxes. People are buying more squash, they’re certainly buying more corn, it’s a value item to fill up the box and get it distributed.”
He added that Florida’s produce scene in the winter involves a lot of trading back and forth with Mexico.
“If they come up and have a huge crop of pepper one week, the pepper market generally goes down and we have to go down with them,” Silverman said. “Conversely, markets go up, and we react, or Mexico reacts. It works both ways.”
Key crops this spring include cucumbers, squash, peppers and corn. And Silverman is expecting robust crops thanks to ideal growing conditions and things going the right way in 2021.
One area Silverman said he’s seen a big difference in is trucking.
“This year we noticed fewer trucks around, even in the months of February and March when generally you don’t run into a truck supply situation,” Silverman said. “We’re just keeping an eye on this to see what happens in the next couple of months. And obviously the price of fuel and the nation’s recovery from COVID-19 is going to have an effect, either way.”
Because of the virus, Paradise Produce hasn’t introduced any new initiatives or added to its staff. Instead, the company is waiting until the pandemic is over and there’s a clearer idea of where the country is headed.
“We’re trying to maintain the business and the contacts we have,” Silverman said. “When we have a clearer indication of what direction we’re heading, I’m sure there’s going to be an expansion of everybody’s business, because I would imagine after everybody’s been locked up in their homes for the past year, there’s a pent-up demand and people are going to be going back to restaurants and living their lives like what we used to consider normal. That will drive the demand for a lot of consumer goods and services, including produce.”
And when the virus is behind us, Paradise Produce will be ready to provide people with the fruits and vegetables they love.
“We’re kind of sitting and waiting and hoping the ball bounces our way when we’re back to normal,” Silverman said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to be normal in the sense that we were two years ago, but I think everybody has a better sense or a better feeling than they did 12 months ago.”