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EXP Group President Emil Serafino and Executive Vice President Anthony Serafino in the company’s brand new executive suite at the company’s facility in North Bergen, NJ. ‘Blackie,’ EXP’s CFO (chief feline officer), stands guard over the company’s brand new executive suite. Anthony Serafino, executive vice president of the EXP Group, shows the company’s Maradol papayas from Mexico, which are marketed under the Mared label. Anthony Serafino, executive vice president of the EXP Group, with boxes of Bonita brand bananas. EXP is the exclusive North American distributor of the Bonita brand. At EXP’s North Bergen, NJ, warehouse, workers build out an 8,600-square-foot addition just days after pouring a new concrete slab. Anthony Serafino, executive vice president of the EXP Group, with boxes of plantains marketed under the Rosita label. Anthony Serafino, executive vice president of the EXP Group, displays boxes of hot peppers from the Dominican Republic marketed under the Rosita label.

EXP Group continuing growth trend

By
John Groh

NORTH BERGEN, NJ -- Anthony Serafino breezed through his company’s busy warehouse on a Monday morning in January, effortlessly shifting gears between speaking about EXP Group’s bustling business and directing workers who were busy building out an 8,600-square-foot expansion to the facility.

“This expansion will bring us to 62,000 square feet of warehouse space, and we just recently added 2,400 square feet of office space, so we are poised for growth,” he said.

EXP Group is a leading importer of Latin and tropical items, which it distributes throughout the tri-state area and beyond from its warehouse facility, here.

While acknowledging that 2020 was a challenging year due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said EXP’s business has remained steadfast and the growth trend it is experiencing started well before the pandemic.

“Business was growing steadily prior to the pandemic and has continued throughout,” he said. “Our real estate investments really helped us maintain our financial strength.”

Serafino was referring in part to the 2016 purchase of the 300,000-square-foot facility where its offices and warehouse are located. “We’ve experienced growth every year since we purchased the facility,” he said. “It has given us flexibility to use more space as needed to accommodate our growth. It really has enabled us to better control what we do, including adding to our customer base and increasing our SKUs.”

But the investments are not limited to the United States, he said, adding that EXP is putting resources into its operations in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

In Mexico, he said EXP is focusing on its Maradol papaya and plum tomato programs. In the D.R., greenskin avocados are seeing increased interest among his customers. These programs are just part of EXP’s overall product line, which includes a heavy emphasis on bananas and plantains, and a variety of other tropicals such as chayote, coconuts, yams, kabocha, peppers, limes and yucca. Product is sourced from a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries, including Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Haiti, Brazil, Guatemala and Jamaica, in addition to the aforementioned Mexico and D.R.

Commenting on the increasing popularity and demand of Latin produce, Serafino opined that certain items, such as papayas and yucca, have made the jump from exotic to mainstream and have been embraced by both retailers and consumers alike, and that is opening the door for more items to do the same. This has been accelerated during the past year when people were forced to spend more time at home and cook more of their own meals.

Additionally, the fact that many of these tropical items are highly nutritious and packed with vitamin C is especially important during the pandemic, when health is top of mind for most of the population.

“People are looking for different ways to get their vitamins, and our products are a key way for them to accomplish that,” he said.

While EXP’s goal is to grow its business, Serafino is acutely aware of the importance of doing that in a measured way.

“We continue to place great emphasis on our food safety protocols and we maintain our SQF certification each year, which includes scheduled and unannounced audits,” he said. “The audits cover everything from inspections of the facility to paperwork related to company policies, recall procedures and more.”

He also stressed that maintaining the integrity of the EXP name is paramount to successfully growing the business.

“To me, our reputation is everything and I take a great deal of pride in maintaining our facility and brand so that our customers know they are getting the best,” he said. “If you’re looking only at price, we’re probably not the place for you. But if you’re looking for the best quality and safest products, you’ve come to the right place.”

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