The 2013-14 shipping season out of the West Mexico states of Sonora and Sinaloa started slower than normal, and with lighter-than-usual volume, but weekly volumes are expected to return to normal by mid-January, according to Gonzalo Avila, chief executive officer of Malena Produce.
The Produce News spoke with Avila in late-December following his return from a tour of the production areas in Mexico, mainly in southern Sonora and the Culiacan area of Sinaloa.
Production this season got off to "a little bit slower start than normal, especially from the Culiacan area," he said. "The first sets were mildly affected" by rain around planting time, and so "are not what they normally are this time of year, but things are starting to come around now. They look a lot better. Production is starting to pick up."
Malena is best known for its eggplant program and has been a leading supplier of eggplant in North America since the 1950s. The company also specializes in Bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, chili peppers, grapes and melons.
From about mid-January onward, Avila said, "we are going to see sizing improve and volume improve as well. We will have a lot more promotable volume coming out of Culiacan in eggplant and cucumbers and Bells and pickles."
In all, Avila visited seven or eight farms in the Obregon, Navojoa and Huatabampo areas of southern Sonora as well as in the vicinity of Culiacan.
Southern Sonora production was running "a little bit behind" but was "starting to go now with some squash," he said. "We are seeing some colored Bells coming out of that area as well and we have some chili peppers and some hard squash."
All of Malena's growing partners in Mexico are "ones we have worked with in the past," but some of them have expanded acreage this season, Avila said.
As reported previously in The Produce News, Malena will have eggplant during the summer in 2014 from a new production area south of Culiacan, giving the company a year-round supply of eggplant.
"This will be the first year we have had that," he said.
In addition, the company has some expansion in acreage in pickles and in Roma tomatoes for the late deal.
For the spring. Malena will have a significantly expanded watermelon deal from Guaymas and Hermosillo, Sonora. The company expects about double the volume it has had in the past, he said. That program will run from about late March through June.
Most of the other programs are "about the same as last year," he said.
Some products are grown open field and some in shade houses and other protective strictures, "depending on the crops," Avila said.
In tomatoes and Bell peppers, for example, "we have mostly protected agriculture," and the eggplant is going more and more that way, but squash is "all open field."
New for the company this year will be a tomato import program out of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic beginning about mid- to late January and continuing probably into early summer, Avila said.
"That is something new for us," he said, adding that those products will be shipped to the East Coast.