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Oakes Farms offering vine-ripe tomato program for first time

By
Keith Loria

Oakes Farms offers a diversified portfolio of services that reach a global market that include farming, packing, shipping, retail markets and foodservice and seafood distribution.

The company plants, grows and harvests more than 100 fruits and vegetables and collaborates with regulated growers on all continents to negotiate year-round produce fulfillment orders. Its customer base is approximately 40 percent direct to retail, 40 percent direct to foodservice and 20 percent to wholesalers and terminal markets.

“We have over 2,000 acres of crops in Florida between Immokalee, Plant City and Naples,” said Steve Veneziano, vice president of the Immokalee, FL-based company. “Among our products are watermelon, eggplant, squash, and the full gamut of peppers.”

Oakes Farms started growing in Florida eight years ago with 56 acres and built really aggressively over that time.

“Our strategy is to focus on quality, not costs, and that has allowed us to grow so fast,” Veneziano  said. “We’re grading harder than our competition and putting up ultra-premium packs and spending all the money in the farm. We’re not skipping any corners. We are going all-in and trying to do the right thing.”

The company’s grower/packer/shipper division currently operates out of five state-of-the-art industrial buildings that encompass more than 138,000 square feet and has a fleet of 37 temperature-controlled semi-trucks, and more than 1,000 independent truck drivers that deliver hundreds of farm-grown commodities between distribution points across the United States.

Despite the pandemic, things have been running smoothly in 2020.

“We’re not having any interruption of service and sales are on the upswing,” Veneziano said. “There’s a little less foodservice business but there’s a lot more retail business so things are positive.”

Oakes Farms has a philosophy of “seed to table,” and that has become even more important during COVID-19 times.

“It seems more than ever folks want to know where product is coming from. We’re trying to show them that we skip the middleman and can provide the product and market them all ourselves,” Veneziano said. “We’re able to tell the consumer where it’s from and we are proudly promoting Fresh From Florida and the logo on all of our boxes.”

Early indications on most crops are good, though he admitted the first planting is tougher than normal because there’s been a ton of rain in 2020. “Everything beyond the first planting is looking strong and we are really excited to move forward, Veneziano said.

A new program for the company this year is the vine-ripe tomato program, which it’s entering in a big way. Oakes Farms ramped up and hired multiple people for the new tomato program and plan to continue to build the team in a much larger way.

“That’s an exciting thing for us,” Veneziano said. “We just felt there was a need for an American-grown Florida ultra-premium vine-ripe tomato. We are going to be packing them in a high-graphic display box starting the second week of November. The lid of the box will have a very large American flag on it.”

Additionally, Oakes Farms is coming into the fall watermelon season strong. The spring was the company’s first time growing watermelon and it did about 300 acres and will do 70 acres in the fall.

“Next spring, we plan on 750 acres,” Veneziano said. “It’s some hefty increases there. Watermelon people are just eating healthier and there’s a strong demand for Florida watermelon, so we wanted to jump into the game.”

Other growth opportunities are planned for 2021 as well.

“We’re going to continue to look to expand our commodity list and continue to expand our growing regions,” Veneziano said. “Our sales growth is really strong. At this time, we are unable to add any new customers because that demand is so strong. Our goal is to expand to allow for new customers to come on board.” 

 

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