We are very pleased to have had the opportunity to exchange ideas about the Fresh Produce Industry in Mexico with Ruben Ramirez Carballo – Country Manager of Mexico for the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA).
From his experience of having visited several countries around the world; observing the business opportunities that the fresh produce industry has in Mexico, Ruben shares with us what are the trends, challenges, and opportunities he believes we must focus on in the short and medium term to consolidate the supply of food from Mexico to the world, we share this interesting interview for Veggies from Mexico.
1. Could you tell us a little about your professional career and how is it for you to work for the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA)?
My first contact with the world of produce began when I was a student when I started a home delivery business of fruits and vegetables on demand, something similar to what we started during the pandemic, and in a more professional way I did my internship at the transportation company Frío Express, where I was an intern to join the import area and end up as team manager Jr, this step helped me a lot to know the different production areas of the country as well as its seasonality and the export process of the various products that Mexico exports.
I had the opportunity to participate in a program of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (SAGARPA) through the Agency of Marketing Services and Development of Agricultural Markets (ASERCA) where they hired young people to represent it in different countries and to seek opportunities for Mexican products, on that occasion I had the honor of being Agricultural Attaché of Mexico in Chile for a few months where it helped me to know the Chilean industry and at that time they were beginning to work hard on issues of certifications to serve markets such as Europe.
Years after that experience I returned to the industry through PrimusLabs in safety and certifications where I was able to work closely with growers’ associations, state plant health councils, and importers, helping me to better understand the implications of being certified and access to better customers and markets. I was also on the production side working at Freshkampo as a manager of the avocado and mango division. My activities were to negotiate orchards and pack and sell the product in Europe and Asia.
I also worked with NSF International as the person in charge of their agriculture program in Mexico where I oversaw accredited programs such as Global Gap, PrimusGFS, and the Eleven Rivers Growers certification. Then I was invited by Nancy Tucker to collaborate with her in PMA.
Collaborating with IFPA is one of the best experiences I have had because it is working with the entire supply chain in Mexico, supporting our members to get contacts from customers, suppliers and sometimes when they have a problem at the border or with any authority, we guide them on how to carry out the actions to comply with the requirements they request.
2. What are your primary responsibilities as Country Manager in Mexico?
One of my main responsibilities is to be the liaison in Mexico of the activities that we carry out in the Mexican council so that they are aligned with the strategies of IFPA global, provide strategic guidance and support to the realization of the event The Mexico Conference and carry out the regional breakfasts in different venues, participate in fairs and/or expos that are held in Mexico to strengthen the presence of the association and seek new partners.
A very important part is strengthening relationships with growers’ associations in Mexico such as AMHPAC, EMEX, Aneberries, APEAJAL, APEAM, AALPUM, COPELP, APHYM, and Eleven Rivers, and CABC among others. We also help our partners to find potential customers for their products by generating appointments and business meetings, providing information on safety and sustainability generated by our experts, and guiding them in terms of consumption trends in the markets where we are represented.
3.- What was the purpose of creating a consolidated organization such as IFPA from two organizations as crucial for the industry the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and United Fresh?
The leaders of United Fresh and Produce Marketing Association believed that the industry’s current membership needed an association that would speak with a more unified and authoritative voice; that would demonstrate its relevance to the world; would advocate for the industry; and it would be a more unified and authoritative organization.
to the world, that advocates for members’ interests; and that unleashes a new understanding of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
Recognizing this need, the organizations rather than merging preferred to create a new entity to replace their organizations as of Jan. 1
2022. At the same time, the IFPA is built on the legacy of the United Fresh
and Produce Marketing Association, it is not only a combination but also a transformation.
4.- What are the main areas/services that IPFA focuses on for the promotion of the fresh and floral industry?
At IFPA, to respond to the interests of our members and partners, we use 7 strategies to drive our work:
1.- To serve all sectors of the global supply chain
Serving all sectors of the global fruit, vegetable, and floral supply chain, thereby increasing our membership and global participation.
2.- To direct government support and leadership to build and maintain a positive business climate in the U.S. and North American markets.
Work with global bodies and allied organizations to promote free and fair trade, harmonization of international standards, and global consumer growth.
4. Provide expertise and business solutions in safety, new technologies, supply chain management, sustainability, leadership, talent development, business operations, marketing, and more.
5.- Unite all sectors of our diverse supply chain to better understand our interconnectedness and support efficiency and profitability throughout the chain.
6. Improve business-to-business sales and marketing connections across the fruit, vegetable, and floral supply chains.
7. Create demand to inspire consumers to adopt fruits, vegetables, and flowers as an essential part of their lives, while increasing profitable sales of members’ products.
5.- What activities do you carry out internationally to promote the industry?
We actively participate in international events such as Fruit Logistica in Berlin, where we held the Executive Leadership Summit that brought together 120 industry leaders from around the world. We will also participate this year in Asia Fruit Logisitica and Fruit Attraction.
In the countries where we have offices, we have local events such as The Mexico Conference, Hort Connections in Australia, The Southern Africa Conference in South Africa, The Brazil Conference, and The Global Produce and Floral Show in Anaheim.
This year we are holding a series of webinars called The Commodity Working Group in which we invite the presidents of the associations of the most representative growers’ countries in the world to exchange experiences, production trends, consumption, challenges, and opportunities presented by each region, among the crops we will address this year are avocados, citrus, table grapes, berries, and mangos.
6. what are the main projects you are currently working on?
This year we will continue to bring IFPA closer to the production zones with the regional breakfasts we will be organizing in Torreon, Veracruz, Ensenada, Uruapan, and Los Mochis. In these events we could bring together the different links of the supply chain in each region to learn from the experts we invite to these events and promote networking among attendees. We are also about to start the Mexico food safety working group, which aims to provide a forum for safety professionals in Mexico to come together, identify key priorities and drive the technical resources and best practices needed to produce the safest and highest-quality fruits and vegetables more efficiently for end consumers both in Mexico and internationally.
7.- How important is Mexico’s produce industry to the U.S. fresh produce trade?
Mexico plays a very important role in the U.S. industry, in 2021 it had fresh produce exports of around $12,500 MDD* led by berries, avocados, tomatoes, peppers, and lemons among other crops. But greater participation in the winter season has made consumers accustomed to finding products on the shelves all year round. The issues of water availability, labor, and production costs are also relevant, which makes it necessary to supply from Mexico.
8. What impact do you see safety, social responsibility, and sustainability having on the industry and how has it changed over the years?
In the last decade, the most relevant topic was food safety regarding certifications such as Primusgfs, GlobalGAP, SQF, and others recognized by GFSI. Nowadays, food safety certifications could be considered and taken as a fact, it is not negotiable; however, we now have a more informed consumer, more and more demanding and concerned about the working conditions of the people who harvest the products they consume, as well as the impact that the production of the product has on the environment. That is why we now have to work hard in these areas, implement initiatives that seek the welfare of workers with labor benefits that help improve their quality of life, and where we can return to the field a grain of much that gives us, we have to start working on issues of efficient water use, soil health, use of clean energy, waste management, sustainable packaging, etc.
9. What are the main trends that you consider will influence the industry in the coming years?
The issue of sustainability is something that we must have in our strategic plans for the short and medium term, an example is the green agreement of the European Union where they have a plan for 2030, that is a trend that we cannot lose sight of, regenerative agriculture and the reduction of carbon emissions.
As well as seeking to reduce food waste through technology that helps us to extend shelf life either with improved genetic varieties or products for post-harvest use.
Finally, we hope to see you next May 17 and 18 at The Mexico Conference! to be held at the Hard Rock Hotel in Guadalajara, where we will address issues of safety, sustainability, and consumer trends.
Thank you, Veggies From Mexico, for the opportunity to share with your audience.
*Source: Panorama Agroalimentario 2022 SIAP