With the Maine broccoli deal set to kick off in mid-July, Fresh From the Start is touting the advantages it offers to retail and wholesale clients looking for top-quality product.
The Riverhead, NY-based company, which operates as a division of Hapco Farms, offers customers the ability to buy product that is several days fresher than what comes from the West Coast. In addition, attractive freight rates enable customers to obtain significant savings.
Fresh From the Start also has made considerable investments in its operations, including an upgrade at its cooler to expand post-harvest handling capacity and a continuous product development program to identify better varieties of broccoli.
Eric Scannelli, sales manager for Fresh From the Start, said the company is now in its 20th year shipping Maine broccoli.
"We have increased our volume steadily each year for the past 20 years, and we will continue to do so," he said. "For this season, we are expecting to ship over 1 million boxes of Asian-cut crowns and bunched broccoli, which will be distributed to destinations on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Our focus is on Asian-cut crowns, which should account for over 80 percent of our volume this year."
Fresh From the Start utilizes the winter months to prepare for the summer growing season, developing and investing throughout the growing process to allow for improved quality and supply, according to Scannelli.
"Our product development program will include over 50 new varieties this year," he said. "We are continually working with seed breeders to develop varieties that will perform well in the Northeast. This close relationship allows us access to new and better varieties than other Eastern producers, and our customers benefit by receiving the best quality available. Also, one of the key elements in our successful harvesting is our partnership with the Ayer family, which has been growing broccoli in Maine for over 32 years"
Additionally, Scannelli said the company's significant capital investments at the cooler will expand post-harvest handling capacity.
"This will allow us to handle multiple customer ad volume and any last-minute fill-in orders from existing customers," he said. "This extra capacity will also ensure that all our broccoli is harvested at the peak of the harvest window when the product is freshest and quality is the best."
All broccoli is hand-cut and packed in the field to minimize bruising and post-harvest handling, which requires a large, stable workforce, according to Scannelli.
"We have a 95 percent employee-retention rate from season to season," he said. "By providing modern housing, free transportation and handling all recruitment functions in house, we have ensured that the harvest crews will be in place to fill all orders with on-time delivery regardless of weather conditions or other factors. With the same workforce in place every season, our customers can be assured of consistent quality from order to order, week to week, and season to season."
Scannelli said that there has also been a continued focus on pest-management systems integration; seed-to-delivery traceability with Good Manufacturing Practices and Good Agricultural Practices programs; annual AIB International audits that have yielded "Superior" ratings; and multiple quality inspections during the harvesting process.
"Quality is of the utmost importance to us, so we employ an experienced in-house inspector and have a USDA inspection on each load," said Scannelli.
Regarding the freight advantage Fresh From the Start offers its customers, Paul Visentin, who works in sales at Fresh From the Start, said that with truck rates from the West Coast to the Northeast currently topping the $10,000 mark, Fresh From the Start customers can realize a savings of approximately $7 per box.
Fresh From the Start's Maine broccoli deal runs from mid-July through mid-October, which also coincides with its cauliflower program.
Aside from broccoli and cauliflower, Fresh From the Start offers year-round supplies of cantaloupes, citrus, grapes, onions, potatoes, peppers, watermelons and strawberries.
Fresh From the Start encourages customers to visit its Facebook page, where photos and updates about it crops and programs are available. Information about the company and its products and services is also available at www.hapcofarms.com.
"We are committed to fully servicing our customers' needs with the best quality product at the best possible price," said Scannelli. "When customers buy from us, they are actually dealing with the grower, not just some broker that is looking for the cheapest cost that will do the job."