Sunripe Certified Brands' Jon Esformes Discusses Winter Tomatoes, Transportation
PALMETTO, FL – Though winter tomato markets have experienced some volatility over the last few months, our industry is resilient, and Sunripe Certified Brands has weathered the storm with aplomb. The company’s winter tomato crop is in full swing, with excellent quality and promotable pricing.
“We’re now into full production of our winter crops,” Chief Executive Officer Jon Esformes told me. “We’re in our normal cycle. Quality is outstanding. Mother Nature blesses Florida with beautiful growing conditions. We have the occasional threat of cold weather as it skirts along the Georgia-Florida border. We had a couple cold fronts that came down, but it was more conversational than it was an actual event for us. Strawberries in the Wimauma and Plant City area were effected, but as far as tomatoes go, harvest is now in southwest Florida and there have been no ill effects.”
Sunripe is currently offering promotable prices out of both Florida and Mexico on a number of popular tomato varieties.
“We always have our round tomatoes—mature green round tomatoes and vine-ripe round tomatoes coming out of Florida. We’re in full production on our Sunripe Certified grape tomatoes coming out of Florida,” Jon said. “I think what we’re most excited about this year is our second full year of production on our proprietary Bella Roma brand Roma tomato. It’s met the market where it’s at. So far our varieties have exceeded our own expectations and the expectations of our customers.”
Jon tells me the company anticipates bloom drops to occur in the next month or so as a result of inclement weather, but Sunripe expects only brief hitches in the company’s schedule.
“Based on our assessment of the damage that took place, we’re looking at a week to ten days, twice in the next forty days,” Jon explained. “There will be one week periods where we’ll have a thirty percent drop in production, but then we’ll pick right back up again.”
A less passing concern, though, may be shipping and transportation costs—costs that skyrocketed this December. Jon noted that turbulent weather and shipping costs this holiday season brought a problem that has been steadily building over several years to the forefront of our industry.
“With all the weather challenges this winter, what really took the industry by surprise—with the depth of its impact—was the trucking and transportation situation. The challenges that had been building quietly over the last several years hit us full-force in December,” Jon said. “Quite frankly, we have been very blessed in North America to have as efficient a delivery system, from one end of the country to the other, as there is in the world. It’s something I think an awful lot of folks have taken for granted, and frankly, the infrastructure has been degraded to a state where we’re at a critical point. It’s not even a matter of how much you will pay for freight, in some cases; it’s a matter of whether a truck is even available.”
Jon continued, “The demand for trucks is tremendous. There’s a shortage of drivers, a shortage of trucks. Rail is one alternative, but it can’t pick up the slack, and I see it as a going concern and issue for a lot of industries. We operate on such slim margins, and when we have a critical component of the cost jumping massively—sometimes two to three times what the cost was two months ago—it really shakes things up. It’s going to put farms in a very difficult position; it’s going to put retailers in a difficult position; everyone throughout the chain is really going to be challenged by this. There may be no more critical issue facing us right now, in agriculture, than the transportation issue.”
AndNowUKnow will continue to report with updates on seasonality and important issues in our industry.