There aren’t too many pure brokers left that follow the tomato deal and offer on-the-ground sourcing from multiple districts, but Bernardi & Associates still fits that mold.
On this day in early June, Joe Bernardi, president of the longstanding company, was in his office in Turlock in California’s San Joaquin Valley. “We’ve got one more guy [a packer] that came in this week and a couple of more that will get going next week,” he said on June 6.“Slowly but surely, they are coming aboard. By the 21st [of June] all nine or 10 mature green shippers in the deal will be going strong.”
Bernardi made the move to Turlock in mid-May from his winter perch in Nogales, AZ, where the company is headquartered. On that early June day, he said Nogales was winding down but his firm was buying and selling tomatoes from five other districts as well. “Right now we are loading in Florida and south Texas. We have just started here in Northern California and we have been packing in Baja [California] since April. Like I said we are still in Nogales and also packing a few loads from the California desert.”
It is this diversity of supply that sets Bernardi apart.
“We are able to source all over the place on any given day. Any individual shipper goes through their high and low points, but we do such a wide range of business that we are a big part of the program for a number of different shippers. Our buying power lets us get good deals every day,” Bernardi said.
He added that he has “a good book of customers” and consequently the firm is treated very well by the shipper community. The bulk of his business is with foodservice operators and repackers as Bernardi & Associates does no direct business with chainstores. And he said business is very good.
“We have noticed a turnaround in the economy,” he said. “There’s more home construction so more people are doing well and more people are eating out, which helps the restaurant business and helps our business.”
While the basic mantra in the produce business is that it is recession-proof “because people have to eat,” Bernardi said the restaurant trade did suffer during the down times, but that sector is doing well now.