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SQF Certification helps Exp Group do ripening right

The Exp Group LLC, was recently awarded its Certificate of Registration for meeting the requirements of the SQF Code for Storage and Distribution, Edition 8.0. The North Bergen, NJ-based company scored 96 out of 100.

Anthony Serafino, vice president of public relations and a member of the generational family-owned business — Serafino’s father, Emil Serafino, founded Exp Group, and is today considered a legend in the produce industry for importing ethnic and tropical products into the United States — told The Produce News that going through the process of certification meant completely changing the way the company does business. That includes from how it deals with its supplier-growers to its internal operations.

“We are very proud of this accomplishment,” said Serafino. “It ensures that Exp Group is doing ripening right. The process was headed by Erik Carrillo, our director of foreign affairs, who is largely responsible for overseeing and implementing it. He will continue to oversee the continuation of our SQF commitment.”

Carrillo, who was born in Peru, understands what the possible challenges are in working with suppliers from other countries.

“We now source from 10 core countries,” said Carrillo. “We visit each of our suppliers to make sure they meet the SQF requirements, and if they don’t, we don’t source from them. We also had to retrain our entire staff here in the U.S. They were required to change the way they think about food safety, from how they enter the building, and what they wear inside. We are fortunate to have a loyal team.”

Carrillo added that the SQF requirements also include fruit fly control and even counting the number of flies in the fly traps daily.

Serafino said the company specializes in organic, green and ripe bananas, green and ripe plantains, green and ripe yuca, avocados, mangos, chayote, coconuts, yams, kabocha, yautia, sour oranges, sweet lemons, asito, hot pepper, ginger and more.

“Currently we’re focusing on our banana and plantain programs, as we’ve added eight additional ripening rooms,” he said. “We now have 29 active rooms — eight just recently added — giving us a capacity of 580 pallets, or 28,000 boxes.”

Serafino added that the products are rotated on a weekly basis unless ships run late.

Exp Group imports bananas and plantains from Ecuador, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, Haiti, Brazil, Guatemala, Jamaica and elsewhere when necessary to keep its customers supplied year-round.

“The banana market in the New York area is very short currently,” explained Serafino. “Ecuador was one of the few countries not affected by conditions in other banana producing countries. This tight market is unusual, and it will be turning around soon. There are a vast number of ways that the market can be affected, including, but not restricted to, inclement weather.”

Exp Group continues to expand its staff and is always looking to add talent to its team that can help it grow. And it plans to expand its facility in the future.

“Tropicals are very healthy and trendy,” stressed Serafino. “Avocados are more popular with millennials especially, and yucca is growing strongly in demand, as it’s considered a viable alternative to potatoes. These items and other tropicals are now resonating with the average American, not just Latin American cultures. Adding them to the American diet has become a lifestyle, not just a trend.”