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Continental Fresh’s savvy decisions prepared it for winter success

By
Keith Loria

Continental Fresh LLC, operating in Miami, specializes in tropical imports from Latin America to retail, foodservice and wholesale customers in the United States.

“Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good,” said Albert Perez, the company’s CEO and manager of grower relations, who has led Continental Fresh to big success over the years. “2020 has certainly thrown everything but the kitchen sink at us; however, we have been truly blessed.”

The most recent challenges for Continental Fresh came in the form of back-to-back hurricanes that made a beeline for its winter vegetable plantings in Comayagua, Honduras.

Continental Fresh is one of the largest importers of cucumbers and hard squash from Central America and at the time of the storms had more than 600 acres of production in the works.

“Although Eta and Iota were both formidable storms, the fact that they made their initial landfalls by way of Nicaragua helped to weaken them before getting to the southern parts of Honduras,” Perez said. “Many parts of Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala were pummeled by severe wind, rains, flooding and mudslides.”

Thankfully, the Comayagua Valley, where Continental Fresh has all of its production, was protected by some nearby mountain ranges that shielded it from the storms’ wraths.

“Another thing that may have saved our season was that we were proactive before the storms by laying down plastic mulch for future plantings,” Perez said. “The fact that we were able to prep our lands prior to the arrival of the first storm ensured that we would not skip a beat in our production schedules. Not everyone in Honduras was this ready for the unforeseen events, so it is quite possible that overall volumes of vegetables for the region will be down during this winter season.”

The company will begin importing cucumbers in late-December and butternut squash in mid-January. All product will be packed in its Food For Humanity label boxes that pledge proceeds to building water and sanitation projects in Latin America.

Elsewhere, Continental Fresh will be resuming its entry into Mexican cucumber and green peppers.

“This is a program that we started in a small way last season when weather conditions gravely affected our supply,” Perez said. “We hope to keep learning as we attempt to bring product through McAllen, TX to serve our East Coast customers.”

 While the pandemic has brought many challenges, it hasn’t all been bad news for the company.

“We suffered gravely in late-March when the whole country shut down,” Perez said. “However, we started clawing our way back over the summer with a strong Mexican mango program where we had budgeted for 1.5 million cases and ended up selling 2.1 million. 2020 will end up grossing the highest sales in the company’s 13-year history.”

 One thing that the Continental team misses is the ability to go out and meet with its customers, so Perez is definitely bummed that the New York Produce Show isn’t happening in-person.

“This year would’ve been our fifth year exhibiting at the New York Produce Show,” he said. “It is one of our favorites and a crucial one given that it happens right before our winter vegetable program and it takes place in a region where a large part of our customer base resides.”

 He likes the show because it gives him the chance to tell the ever-evolving story of the company.

“We get to showcase our items, usually with our corporate chef, and chat with many customers and friends,” Perez said. “Continental will be taking advantage of the virtual options offered by this year’s show by creating a virtual booth and setting up meetings to exchange valuable program details with retailers, wholesalers, processing and foodservice accounts. In families, they say it takes a village. For us, it is the same way with our family of customers and we definitely miss being with our village.”

 

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