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Addition of Texas distribution creates opportunities for SunFed

rio rico, az — “There are a ton of opportunities” for SunFed, with the firm adding a distribution presence in south Texas, complementing Nogales operations, said Craig Slate, the firm’s president and chief executive officer.

The warehouse facility in Weslaco, TX, has particularly given SunFed opportunities with Mexican onions and avocados.

Craig-Slate-Matt-MandelIn the Rio Rico conference room of SunFed are the firm’s top executives Craig Slate and Matt Mandel.Slate joined SunFed almost four years ago when he was working in Texas. Promoted a year ago, with the retirement of co-founder Danny Mandel, Slate now lives in Arizona and works from the firm’s Rio Rico office.

“When I first came to SunFed, my first focus was to set up Texas,” he said. “We believed the customers wanted SunFed to be a year-round supplier. That was the original premise, and it still is our approach.”

Matt Mandel, SunFed chief operating officer, said “trying to integrate the two offices has been a challenge, with such a big portion of our product coming here, some of which is grown within two hours of here. No matter how much foresight you have, you can’t plan for every eventuality.” But, he added, “it’s been a great learning experience and there is a ton of opportunity. It has exposed us to much more business.”

Among the considerations is the best use of resources. For example, SunFed has flow-wrap equipment in both facilities. For just-in-time customer services, “it requires more customization and to have the equipment in the right place at the right time,” Slate said.

Ultimately, much of such services will be done at ranches to avoid redundancy, Slate said.

But, Mandel added, some capabilities are needed at the distribution point to meet the unexpected. For example, there needs to be a contingency program for the customer that decides at the last minute to order 450 overwrapped products, not 400.

Mandel said that SunFed’s 12-month avocado program “is small for us at the moment. Any new item will be small to make sure you have it right. It’s like learning to play the piano. You take it slow at first.”

Slate noted that the avocado market “is a crowded field. There are big boys out there.” But avocado demand from SunFed customers gives the distributor good distribution.

SunFed is active with three Mexican avocado shippers “for surety of supply. You don’t want to have all of your eggs in one basket.”

Slate noted that SunFed’s promise of “’Perfect Produce’ is a lofty goal to live up to.”

Mandel added that “we have been here for 25 years. We’re still young in areas of growth and opportunities with new commodities and services. The tagline of ‘Perfect Produce’ is very specific but generally broad. We will be putting several more things under the umbrella.”

SunFed will begin shipping Mexican white onions seven weeks earlier this year than last season. This year the deal will begin in late November. Last year it didn’t start until Jan. 12. “Overall we anticipate more onion production,” Mandel said. Beyond whites, the firm will be shipping some early “yellow onions and then reds by mid-January. We expect Texas Sweets by late February or early March.”

In Sinaloa this fall, SunFed growers dodged severe tropical storm damage “and we expect a really nice eggplant crop.” That harvest geared up in late October and is now going “full bore. We are 100 percent protected agriculture on eggplant,” Mandel said. “We have progressively moved toward protected eggplant production over the last four years. The quality is better, hands-down. There is no comparison.”

Slate said that most of SunFed’s items come out of Sinaloa and Sonora. “The bulk of our production is in the dead of winter.” But in its year-round shipping program, SunFed ships from 15 Mexican states.