EMPALME, SONORA — “Perfect Produce” is gracefully emblazoned on a towering black marble foyer wall at SunFed’s headquarters. The company’s stylish new black consumer packaging and corresponding industry t-shirts promote “Perfect Produce.” And promotions and packaging push “Perfect Cucumbers,” “Perfect Squash” or “Perfect Melons.”
Matt Mandel, SunFed’s vice president of sales and marketing, recognizes this “Perfect” approach is rather forward. Brett Burdsal, SunFed’s new director of marketing, is unabashed in his artistic “Perfect” approach from the firm’s headquarters in Rio Rico, AZ.
The company’s premiere brand is “SunFed,” and Mandel said everything to be packed in that brand is top quality. The firm has two other brands: “SunOne” and “Almost Famous.”
This year marks SunFed’s 20th anniversary. “In 18 of the 20 years we focused exclusively on the production side,” Mandel said. “Now we focus on the tag line ‘Perfect Produce,’ which requires doing everything as well as you possibly can. Brett is here to help us reinvent ourselves. He is very much outside the box. I’m not sure he knows there is a box. I think that is a good thing — to have fresh ideas and fresh ways to be looking to improve the company, our processes and protocols. We built the company based on being conservative. So we are not getting too far out. We are going forward in metered steps.”
To assure quality and management control of its new packaging, SunFed has slowed rolling out the “Perfect Produce” consumer campaign introduced in October at the PMA Fresh Summit in Anaheim, CA.
Burdsal said his job “is to expand on a phenomenal brand.”
Offering perfect produce is quite a challenge for a shipper-distributor that is intimately involved with 51 growers scattered along Mexico’s west coast.
To demonstrate the quality of programs shipping perfect produce to the Rio Rico distribution center, Mandel and Burdsal escorted The Produce News to Empalme, Sonora, Dec. 10-11. Empalme is a scenic Gulf of California commercial fishing port located about four hours south of Nogales. The farming area visited by The Produce News is cultivated from seemingly virgin desert land to the east and south of Empalme. Empalme is across a small blue bay from the better-known commercial seaport of Guaymas. The region is in Yaqui Valley, which is fed by rich rivers and good wells.
This tour involved two growers: Agricola Bay Hermanos and Agroproductos San Rafael, S.A. de C.V., Empalme, Sonora. Santiago Zaragoza owns the San Rafael operation.
Agricola Bay Hermanos is owned by three brothers. Lorenzo Bay operates the Empalme farm. His brothers, Fausto Bay and Bernardo Bay, operate two separate farms to the north of Hermosillo. Collectively, the Bay brothers produce more than 2,500 acres of vegetables.
“They started with 30 hectares (90 acres) almost 10 years ago,” Mandel said. “They have very sophisticated operations. They exemplify the concept that we don’t work with farmers, but with businessmen who are in the agricultural industry. They invest in their operations, including their people. That is what made them successful, their attention to detail. A lot of what they do mirrors the SunFed mentality.”
Squash varieties — notably zucchini, yellow, straight neck and Mexican grey squash — are the primary crop for Bay brothers. Mandel said the grey squash has grown so much in demand that it surpasses yellow squash in production on the Bay farms. Grey squash has long been popular in Mexico, but consumers north of the border and gaining an appreciation for its good taste. Bay grows about 90 acres of organic vegetables at any given time.
The Bays are increasing their production of conventional and seedless watermelons, as well as cantaloupe.
At Agroproductos San Rafael, Zaragoza produces about a thousand acres of cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, mini-watermelons, green and colored Bell peppers and jalapenos.
Empalme production is timed to generally, but not absolutely, precede and succeed vegetable production in Culiacan, which is a few hours to the south. Culiacan production runs from mid-November until March.