CAN (AB): Greenhouse tomato grower seeing success with new brand

An experienced family greenhouse grower in Alberta is seeing the fruits of their new branding come to bear. Working in partnership with Oppy, Sunshine Greenhouse launched their new brand TOVs earlier this year, under the brand name Frank & Able. While the Vis family, the owners of Sunshine, have already had an established greenhouse product line for almost 30 years, they felt it was the right time to take a step further to really make their mark on the industry. 

Dirk Vis, one of the owners at Sunshine Growers (the others being his brother Keith and brother-in-law Devin Jaspers), explained how the Frank & Able brand came about. "Frank & Able is really the result of timing and inspiration," he began. "We were ready to differentiate ourselves as growers. Keith and I had taken on the greenhouse business established by our parents, and our brother-in-law Devin Jaspers had joined us in the enterprise. Together, we have great enthusiasm for growing only the very best and the energy to assure every last detail is handled right."

"When we formed a partnership with Oppy, we enjoyed some fun and intensely illuminating conversations with the marketing team about becoming a brand, and what that brand should convey to our customers and our team members," Vis continued. "We examined our business, our aspirations, and the strengths that set us apart. In the end, we landed on Frank & Able because we feel it authentically reflects what’s important to us. By being frank and being able, we do our very best to grow well and deliver especially high quality every day."

Dirk Vis (right), discusses tomatoes with Devin Jaspers (left), and Keith Vis (center)

Consumers responding favorably
The new brand approach appears to have had the desired effect, providing consumers with a hint of intrigue while at the same time giving them a sense of familiarity. Of course, there is no point in having a great brand if the product doesn't deliver. That's why Vis said the company ensures their tomatoes live up to the quality and expectation that the family have already established since the beginning. And since shipping under the Frank & Able brand, movement has been good.

"Customers are responding well," he shared. "The feedback on the product has been very positive, and as a brand, we seem to be capturing people’s imaginations a bit, which is exciting. The market has its ebbs and flows, but we’ve seen good momentum on the whole this season. We’ve been shipping since early April and are appreciative of the support we’ve had. Trade customers are starting to recognize the Frank & Able brand and the good eating experience our tomatoes deliver. That leads to repeat orders and the opportunity to continue to build the business together by doing our best for them."

Vis added that during their attendance at CPMA in April, they had the opportunity to connect with their customers, as well as retailers to get their perspective on what consumers are looking for. "Keith and I attended the Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention in April, which gave us the chance to engage with customers, answer questions and establish a more personal rapport. It’s always interesting to talk with retailers and get a better understanding of what they need and value in the produce they present to their shoppers."

Growth and shipping
Sunshine Greenhouse has come a long way since its establishment. Having expanded their greenhouse a number of times, they are now well prepared to meet future growth prospects. Even in the cold Alberta winters, production continues without hindrance. "We are currently producing TOVs in 13 acres," Vis explained. "Our two facilities currently produce over 630,000 11- lb. cases of TOVs annually. During the wintertime, which gets quite cold in our neck-of-the woods, we use lights to ensure we have year-round production. Frank & Able tomatoes are available exclusively from Oppy in bulk 11-lb cartons, cello bags, vexar bags and RPCs."

The only challenge facing them is transport. As is the case with for many growers across North America, truck shortages are also apparent in Alberta. However, Vis said that careful planning ensures that the company can get their tomatoes out into the market. "Any minor issues with distribution, like a smaller trucker pool available to travel to our location, can be mitigated quite well by planning in advance," he noted. "Frank & Able TOVs are available at most Western Canadian retail stores, plus a variety of retail outlets in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and several states in the U.S. Northeast."

Further growth
Such is Sunshine's success with partner Oppy, that they are planning on further expansion to the greenhouse, not just with the growing area but also with a new packing house. Both of these are set to be completed this year, and although the company are happy to be perfecting the Frank & Able TOV products, they are open to the idea of growing other produce in the future as well.

"We’re excited about the opportunity for growth ahead. Our plans for the construction of five additional high tech acres under glass, as well as a new packing facility, are progressing toward completion before the end of the year. While we’ve established a level of expertise and good reputation as a TOV grower, we appreciate the flexibility of the greenhouse growing environment and are open to producing other items should the market demands arise."

For more information:
Karin Gardner
Tel: +1 (206) 499-7440

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