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‘Always growing’ the motto at Farm Fresh Produce

By
Keith Loria

Farm Fresh Produce, a family owned company headquartered in eastern North Carolina, consider themselves specialists in two things: harvesting genuine sweet potatoes from North Carolina and Mississippi sweet potatoes, and bringing innovative new ideas to market.

“The company began as a small produce brokering business which revolved around exotic fruits and vegetables, and sweet potatoes, and has quickly grown into a grower/packer/shipper,” said Aaron Wilson, farm manager for Farm Fresh Produce. “We made adjustments early on to adapt to the EU export market and quickly gained a foothold overseas. Through experimental trials and extreme risk taking, we have managed to have great success in the effective export of quality USA-grown sweet potatoes into other countries.”

The company produces Napa cabbage, flat and round green cabbage, hard squash, okra, and green bell pepper as well, but sweet potatoes account for nearly 90 percent of business for Farm Fresh Produce, which is produced on 6,000 acres, coming in at roughly 120,000,000 pounds annually.

“Success has come through hard work, dedication, and attention to detail,” Wilson said. “Our CEO’s motto for Farm Fresh is ‘always growing.’ He has a passion to Farm Fresh Produce further and find new areas to develop within the industry.”

Farm Fresh Produce is still a fairly young company, as is management, with the average age less than 40 years old.

“But there is no lack of experience,” Wilson said. “From the field, to packing house, as well the front office, the FFP management team members are experienced beyond their years and have fresh ideas for the future.”

Last season’s sweet potato crop could best be described as “average,” with Wilson explaining that North Carolina saw almost double the amount of normal rainfall throughout the year. And while there were no quality issues, the yields were affected.

“If we don’t have any major hurricanes in North Carolina and the COVID-19 vaccine gets out and people start to feel safe, then once U.S. and other countries open back up to normal, movement should be much better than this year,” Wilson said. “Maybe as much as 25-50 percent better. Our foodservice segment is very slow.”

Speaking of COVID-19, the pandemic has impacted all packers, but in November the EU implemented a 25 percent tariff on all sweet potatoes as well as some other commodities shipped into Europe.

“That changed business in a big way being we ship 90 percent of our potatoes overseas,” Wilson said. “One benefit of having such a young company and young management team is we adapt to change very well and overcame these challenges. The tariff has discouraged some packers to take the risk and export anything. We are confident in our product and know it can hold up to anyone’s quality standards and we can help pass along these cost as our customer base continues to grow.”

Wilson believes retailers in the U.S. could be doing a better job with advertising sweet potatoes, and noted stores in the EU do a great job showing off the packers’ boxes and quality to customers, to show where the product is grown, packed and shipped from.

“Knowing the background of a product lets a customer build trust in something and then the product speaks for itself,” he said. 

Even with the challenges, Farm Fresh Produce added 120,000 square feet of storage in 2020 and hopes to continue its growth of both storage and production in 2021.

“Farm Fresh Produce is also making renovations to our existing building to achieve new and higher food safely goals,” Wilson said. “As I said, our motto is ‘always growing’ and that’s what we intend on doing.”

 

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