Fresh Farms in expansion mode
Fresh Farms, a Mexico-based grower and shipper of table grapes and vegetables, is in the middle of an expansion program that will see tremendous increase in its volume in the coming years.
The operations, which began in the 1940s and is now being run by second generation Molina family members, recently hired industry veteran David Watson as its senior vice president of sales and marketing for its Arizona and California sales teams. He told The Produce News that the company is growing grapes in both Jalisco and Sonora, also imports from South America and has a California growing operation.
“We are the only Mexico-based grower that also has its own grape production in California,” he said. “We have been the grape pioneers in the Jalisco area.”
Watson said, in total, these various production areas give Fresh Farms year-round table grape production, as well as significant vegetable production in items such as squashes, cucumbers and peppers.
“The opportunity to join Fresh Farms and to work alongside the Molina family is exciting and comes at a time when Fresh Farms can accelerate growth in innovation and year-round capabilities across multiple product lines,” he said. “The grape industry is very dynamic and Fresh Farms is well positioned to help customers deliver on what their consumers are demanding.”
Watson, who brings almost four decades of produce industry experience to his new position, noted that Fresh Farms has a very robust table grape program. “We have 19 varieties, including all the major one and we are also known for our Cotton Candy production.”
Cotton Candy is one of the newer varieties that has a pronounced sweetness characteristic as its name suggest. Speaking to The Produce News in late March, Watson said Fresh Farms was currently selling Chilean grapes, which would last into May, he predicted.
Jalisco’s location and climate allows it to be the first Mexican state with fresh grapes, which are expected in good volume in both April and May. Fresh Farms has made a major investment in Jalisco, with the state now representing about one-third of its grape production. Watson said those young vines are maturing and he anticipates a significant increase in volume from Fresh Farms. Mexico is expected to produce about 20 percent more grapes in 2022 than 2021 and Watson said Fresh Farms will be up by even a larger percentage.
Scott Rossi, who is another grape veteran and a member of the Fresh Farms team, expected to have grapes from Jalisco in early April. He said Sonora should join the party in early May. The two veterans noted that there will be plenty of Mexican grapes to promote from the middle of May through June and into July.
Toward the future, Rossi said Fresh Farms, and virtually all North American grape growers, are looking for a good red seedless variety to replace Flame Seedless. “We are growing every variety we can to find that replacement,” he said, noting that some have shown good promise, including Jack’s Salute and Allison, but finding a perfect replacement has been elusive.
Watson added the company has many of the newer varieties under trial, including the proprietary line that is often called the “Candy” varieties, which include Candy Hearts, Candy Crunch, Candy Snaps and Candy Dreams. That same varietal developer, International Fruit Genetics, also has a line that could be called the “Sweet” varieties, which include more than a dozen options such as Sweet Celebration.
Watson said the key to grape sales this year will be promotion. He noted the increased volume should allow for great retail promotions throughout most of the Mexico shipping season.
Fresh Farms also has a strong line of organic grapes, which will get underway once Sonora starts harvesting and shipping in mid-May.
For this season, Watson also touted the company’s biodegradable clam shell option for retailers. He said the company continues to search for environmentally friendly packaging. He also noted that the company offers “Fair Trade” grapes, which return a financial reward to the farmworker communities where they are grown.
Watson’s experience in the vegetable and deciduous categories is expected to help Fresh Farms to play a larger role in the table grape and vegetable supply to the markets. In his new position, the main focus will be to align sales and marketing efforts in order to achieve company goals, which are the continued growth of the business by producing superior product, in volume, backed by exceptional customer service.
In welcoming Watson to the team, Fresh Farms CEO Juan Pablo Molina noted his diverse experience and said that will help the company with its various product lines. “David’s vast experience, customer-centric market knowledge and management experience is uniquely suited for our company today,” he said. “We are truly excited to see the potential of his addition and to the leadership he will bring to our team.”