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Frank Donio Inc. looking forward to New Jersey spring produce

By
Gordon M. Hochberg

“We weren’t really concerned based on the weather over the winter. It wasn’t anything really to note in terms of Jersey Fresh veg,” Annie Pape of Frank Donio Inc. told The Produce News Wednesday, May 5. “But it has been a little bit warm now, which is kind of bringing the season on slightly earlier than it was last year, for the veg specifically.”

She added, “The lettuces have started with red leaf, green leaf, endive, Boston, escarole — that’s what going on right now,” and parsley should be starting soon. “We’re a little bit earlier than last year, but it’s pretty standard. It’s been warm, it’s been a little bit wet and a little bit windy, but I think that so far, so good.”

Looking ahead to the late spring and summer items from the Garden State, “Cabbage is going to start coming in the end of May, and the same thing with green squash,” said Pape, who is part of the sales and marketing team at Frank Donio Inc., headquartered in Hammonton, NJ. She is also “fourth-generation Donio,” as she put it proudly, as her great-grandfather was the founder of the company.

“Going farther into the summer, our blueberries will start — one of our bigger items for the summer. They started to bloom about three weeks ago, and the weather’s been really good for pollination,” she said. “And it’s been warm, so the bees come out. It hasn’t rained a ton, so they’re out and about, getting done what they need to get done. We’ve had really ideal conditions for pollination, which is going to be good for the volume coming out.”

Asked if it was too soon to project a starting date for Jersey blues, she replied, “We won’t have a target until we get a little bit closer, but right now we’re looking at our standard middle of June — second to third week of June time frame.”

On the personnel side, “We do have an addition to our sales team,” she announced. Josh Minton, 34, started at the company on April 12. “He has experience in the procurement side, and now he’s moving more into the sales side,” she said. “He’s bringing all that experience and knowledge that he’s gained. He’s super motivated, and he has a lot of energy. We’re very excited to bring him on board.”

Asked about the importance of locally grown fresh produce, Pape stated, “With locally grown, obviously the less transportation time you have, the less cost. Freight has been really expensive recently, so locally grown is going to definitely have a moment this year. It’s going to be more important in terms of sourcing. We operate our own fleet of trucks, which allows us to be very responsive to the logistical demand, especially in this climate of truck availability and costs.”

On the subject of organic produce, Pape said, “Organics have definitely been stronger. Everything increased last year with everybody being home and doing more cooking at home, but organics really did increase last year. So I don’t know that we’ll have the same increase this year, but it’s definitely not going away.”

She also said, “We’re going to be expanding our local organics program. It’s not finalized yet. Barring any major changes, it’s something that we’re going to announce within probably the next month.”

On the subject of reusable plastic containers, Pape said, “Looking toward the future, we recently added an RPC program, something that’s been on our radar for a while just because our company’s mission is very much a balance between people, plant and profit. And RPCs are really in line with the sustainability portion of that. And there’s a demand for it, so it naturally fit for us.”

Frank Donio Inc. has always tried to be a good steward of the environment. In that regard, “We’ve had our large-scale composting project for at least six or seven years,” she noted. “We’ve always been doing it, but we started doing it with more of a concerted effort. We have our traditional composting where we’re able to compost any food waste and use it on our farms. It creates an organic fertilizer which is really great for replenishing the land.”

Like every business in America, Frank Donio Inc. had to deal with the pandemic over the past year. Asked how she thought the company handled it, she replied, “It’s always a challenge when you’re in an essential business. There’s a lot of physical things going on, so it’s not a work-from-home type of place where everyone is on their laptops and in their houses. A lot of us still have to be here in the building, looking at product, moving product, loading trucks. We very much appreciate the employees who came in day after day to make sure that we didn’t close. So we were open throughout the entirety of it. We were able to supply our customers. I think we fared pretty well, all things considered. We’re lucky, and we’re happy to be coming out of it.”

She concluded, “The majority of the people in our company have been able to go out and get a vaccine. I think that New Jersey has actually done a pretty good job of making them available. And we were able to team up with one of our local healthcare providers so that anyone who wanted a vaccine had access to them. We had them come out and give vaccines on-site for anybody who wanted them.”

 

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