NatureSweet drops crops for success

"Making sure NatureSweet makes it financially is “a lot of work.”"

NatureSweet, Ltd., which acquired EuroFresh Farms in late March after it filed for bankruptcy, continues to make changes “in order to be a financial success,” said CEO Bryant Ambelang. The major change the company has made was to pull the tomatoes-on-the-vine crop completely and most of the beefsteak and Roma tomato crops, he said. “We are focusing on our Cherubs and Glorys, and they are fantastic. We are transitioning out of other crops, and reducing our prison labor, not our direct employees.

Because of the change in crops, a change in packing was required, as the facility has not automated or mechanical equipment for packing the tomatoes they are now growing. “EuroFresh had the packing machinery for the tomatoes-on-the-vine and the beefsteak tomatoes at the facility in Willcox. Everything else they shipped to a facility they owned in Agua Prieta (just south of Douglas in Mexico). We inherited that facility and we bring our tomatoes there to be packed,” Ambelang said.

“When we acquired the facility, there were 400 prison inmates working and about 800 employees. We have now reduced the inmates to about 100, and will go to almost zero by the end of November. But there has been every attempt to maintain that original 800 employees.

“Some people were moved out of packing and were asked to work in the greenhouse (where the prisoners worked). Some (of those asked to move) did not stay, as they were physically unable to do that work,” Ambelang said.

“It would be a significant investment to purchase the packing equipment for Willcox, but we will consider that at the end of 2014. We need to prove our financial success before we do that,” he said.

As for management, he said the company did not keep the CEO or CFO from EuroFresh and that NatureSweet brought in a general manager and financial controller from their facility in Guadalajara (Mexico), “but that was all that came here from Guadalajara.”

Ambelang said NatureSweet donates its excess tomatoes to the Food Bank in Douglas, and is willing to do the same at the Community Food Pantry in Willcox.

“It’s a delicate balance to donate. We want to make sure it is suitable produce for eating, and we don’t want to compete with local stores. We need to be sure the produce is channeled to the people in need,” he said.

“We did have to throw a lot of produce away after we turned the crop out, but it was produce people could not eat,” he added.

Ambelang said making sure NatureSweet makes it financially is “a lot of work.”

“The company (EuroFresh) went bankrupt for a reason. This is a facility that has to completely change in order to be a financial success,” he said. “It was a major investment to pull out an entire crop.

“The good news is that the people here are doing a great job and the production shows that. We are excited to be growing a bunch of great-tasting tomatoes.”

A San Antonio-based company, NatureSweet, Ltd. employs about 5,000 people, most of them in greenhouse operations in Mexico.


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