Veggies from Mexico spreading the word
Veggies From Mexico, a community of grower-shippers committed to higher standards of food safety and social responsibility, promoted its members at a U.S. produce trade show for the first time signaling its intent to further step into the marketing arena.
In April, the group of 13 grower-shippers from the Mexican state of Sinaloa, which is the heart of Mexico’s winter vegetable deal, exhibited at Viva Fresh in Dallas. Georgius Gotsis, who is general manager of Veggies From Mexico and holds the same position at its parent company, Eleven Rivers, explained that Viva Fresh, with its focus on trade between Mexico and the United States, was the perfect opportunity for the growers to participate in face-to-face marketing. He said that effort is currently being reviewed and he expects it will lead to other marketing initiatives.
Gotsis explained that Eleven Rivers and Veggies From Mexico are committed to making produce from Sinaloa safer through the use of strict food-safety standards, certifications and audits. He said Eleven Rivers was launched by CAADES, the Sinaloa growers association, in 2009 when the region was inaccurately connected to an outbreak of Salmonella during the season. Gotsis said that Eleven Rivers was initially launched to certify that growers were following proper good safety practices. For more than a decade, a compliance team from Eleven Rivers, funded by CAADES, has been training growers and helping growers achieve certification status. Each company achieves a specific compliance tier based on the certifications that they have in both food safety and social responsibility.
Eleven Rivers has a “Full Compliance” certification, which means the growers meet all the necessary certifications. There is also the “Eleven Rivers Beyond” level, which means the grower goes beyond the base certifications to the next level. For example, Gotsis said on the food-safety front that includes Primus GFS as well as Global GAP + GMP + HAACP. It also means social responsibility certifications beyond the basics. Weekly audits are conducted for each grower to make sure they remain “Beyond” or in “Full Compliance.”
There are currently 13 members in the Veggies From Mexico community with either “Full Compliance” or “Beyond” certifications. Currently 11 of them are in the “Beyond” category. “Every week there is an audit on some part of their operation,” Gotsis said. “Maybe it’s the packingline one week, their social responsibility the next week and a field audit the third week.”
If a grower scores below 85 percent on any given audit, the company is removed from the community until all issues are rectified.
“These 13 growers represent about 30 percent of the vegetable exports from Sinaloa, accounting for about 25 million boxes,” Gotsis said. “Each grower has its own brands and distribution. They include some of the more well-known companies in our industry, including Del Campo and Tricar.”
The Veggies From Mexico alliance is identified on pallets or packaging with a QR code that takes the user to a website explaining the program, identifying the grower and his certification, and telling his story.
Gotsis said the Viva Fresh marketing effort was very successful as it resulted in follow-up contacts with foodservice and retail buyers interested in learning about the program and getting in touch with Veggies From Mexico members.
The group’s general manager said Veggies From Mexico wants to expand its reach to represent more growers and a greater percentage of the vegetables grown in Sinaloa. Currently, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers are the primary crops in the program, but there are other growers and crops that already qualify through their food safety and social responsibility efforts and Eleven Rivers wants to bring them into the fold under the Veggies From Mexico banner. The community also wants to see other growers adopt the extra efforts and auditing requirement needed to apply.
“The program is open to any grower in Sinaloa,” Gotsis said. “Our goal is simply to make Sinaloa (vegetables) safer.”
He said long-term plans include expanding the program to the other regions where these growers have production but currently the main focus is limited to Sinaloa, which mirrors the reach of CAADES.
Photo: Francisco Campaña and Georgius Gotsis of Veggies from Mexico at the recent Viva Fresh Expo in Grapevine, TX.