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A Community Affair

The difference between the words "produce," as in fresh produce that has been grown, and "produce," as in to make or create, are subtle. When used in everyday conversation, the pronunciations are almost too similar to discern: prōd(y)oos versus prəˈd(y)oos. And while one is a noun and the other a verb, we could not have the noun without the verb or, rather, we could not have fresh produce without a community of growers producing.

Since the 1950s, Mucci Farms™ has been one of these communities. But unlike others in the industry who are focused solely on producing fresh fruits and vegetables, Mucci Farms has distinguished itself as one producing a community that is ever-expanding, ever-innovating, and ever-focused on fulfilling Mucci Farms’ vision to be North America’s preferred fruit and vegetable grower.

Carol Bendo, Director of Human Resources, Mucci Farms “We have achieved aggressive infrastructure expansion and overall company growth through a combination of factors, most notably the emphasis on the treatment of our employees and our work culture,” Carol Bendo, Director of Human Resources, begins. “Despite our exponential growth, Mucci Farms has consistently lived up to the ‘family farm’ description by treating employees like family and providing them with the resources needed to have long, successful careers.”

The small family farm that first began in the ’50s grew to roughly 40 employees by the end of the ’90s. With the dawning of the new century, however, the second generation of Mucci kicked this growth into overdrive after launching the Sales and Marketing division. In the last 20 years, Mucci Farms has grown to over 1,200 full-time employees in Canada and the United States, with hundreds boasting anywhere between five and 30 years with the greenhouse grower.

With this growth, Mucci Farms has bolstered its operations to bear the title of vertically integrated: an organization’s ability to provide clients with end-to-end management of the supply chain.

Emily Murracas, Director of Marketing, Mucci Farms“In the case of Mucci Farms, this means that we control all ends of the process, providing the service to grow, pack, and ship product to retailers,” explains Emily Murracas, Director of Marketing. “In recent years, particularly with the rise of social media, marketing became widely considered as an additional component to vertical integration in the greenhouse industry.”

Emily notes that retailers have come to expect suppliers to offer marketing programs that differentiate themselves on store shelves and, ultimately, assist with increasing sales. As a result, Mucci Farms saw an opportunity to take a more hands-on approach—literally—in creating eye-catching brands via its own in-house marketing team, which today executes all ends of graphic design, videography, social media, marketing, in-store POP and demos, and new product and packaging development.

"We wanted it to be clear that if you had the interest, ambition, and drive, there would be realistic growth opportunities available."

-Carol Bendo

Being vertically integrated also means Mucci Farms has access to everyone from growers and packers to shippers and retailers, creating an intimacy between its teams and its services that allows the company as a whole to be nimble and efficient when adapting to changes.

“This also gives us the unique ability to curate marketing programs for retailers based on their specific needs and business models,” Emily continues. “We take pride in our ability to meticulously craft specific programs with our retail partners. Greenhouse farming allows us to forecast product supply so that we have the ability to build large-scale, long-term programs. And, our intimate control of each part of this process helps us work with retailers in a way that traditional farmers cannot.”

Smuccies sweet Strawberries are greenhouse-grown and cultivated with care and consistency, bringing fresh summer flavor all winter longOne example Emily gives is traveling the world with retailers to identify fruit and vegetable varieties to bring to market. With a handful of acreage dedicated to trial programs, Mucci Farms works in partnership with the retailer on a research and development program to maximize flavor, production, packaging, shelf-life, and transportation goals. It can take two to three years at times, before an item lands on a store shelf.

The benefits of Mucci Farms’ vertically-integrated status are also felt internally. Specifically, its Human Resources (HR) Department partnered with its Marketing Department to launch the Grow With Us campaign, a response to the changes that have affected the greenhouse industry in the last five to ten years by creating a wide variety of roles within Mucci Farms’ team. The campaign was designed to build awareness within and outside the company that Mucci Farms has legitimate, long-term career opportunities.

“We wanted it to be clear that if you had the interest, ambition, and drive, there would be realistic growth opportunities available. There is a perception of the farming industry that the opportunities are predominantly general labor positions with little to no opportunities for growth. As a result, we decided to start a campaign to get the word out that we are offering more than that,” Carol says. “The campaign also included ways to recognize and reward employees, which in turn contributes to improving company culture and raising the level of team spirit. At our annual employee appreciation event, we now recognize and reward all of our team members that cross five, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years of service marks. We have also created monthly awards in a variety of departments and invested in a renewed emphasis on training and development, mentorship programs, apprenticeships, and student co-op programs.”

Left to Right: Blake Pauls, Mat Walsh, and Wayne St. Denis showing their Team Mucci Spirit at one of many 5k races

The Grow With Us campaign was initially kicked off with an on-site career fair, which was advertised to the community via postcards sent to 30,000 homes and a partnership with a local radio station. At the job fair, Mucci Farms’ HR team was on location accepting resumes and offering on-site interviews to prospective employees, while the radio station and chefs entertained applicants with music and tasty Mucci Farms-branded goodies.

“This was a successful venture that helped us add key people to Team Mucci,” Carol reflects. “Then, to build on that success, we partnered with Workforce WindsorEssex (WFWE), a local employment planning council, to help raise awareness of career opportunities in the agricultural industry in our region. This partnership featured a video profile on the opportunities at Mucci Farms and highlighted some of our team members who have grown with us. Multiple team members were also interviewed for written profiles that appeared on WFWE’s website, in which they shared their stories about progressing at our company.”

"We take pride in our ability to meticulously craft programs with our retail partners."

-Emily Murracas

Through it all—the aggressive growth, acquisitions (particularly its latest of Orangeline Farms), and major recruitment efforts—Mucci Farms’ goal has remained the same: to be North America’s preferred fruit and vegetable grower.

Tomatoes On-The-Vine grown 365 days a year in Huron, Ohio“Our company pillars—Quality Farming, Innovative Spirit, Passionate Team, Operational Excellence, and Partners in Produce—are helping us meet this goal. But we would be nothing without our passionate team helping us carry out our vision in all aspects of our company: from growing high-quality products with superior flavor and freshness, to researching and developing state-of-the-art technology to improve our methods. The team consistently increases productivity, reduces waste, and delivers products efficiently with the highest food safety standards in the industry. Team Mucci makes it all possible,” Emily concludes.

After two years in the industry, the produce department is no longer merely an aisle of fruits and vegetables in my eyes. Instead, as I whisk between the rainbow of bell peppers and the rows of cucumbers, then back to the peppers—because I was so lost in my thoughts of produce versus produce I forgot to grab a few for my cart—I see the hands of those who tended the greenhouses, feel the hearts of the marketing teams who doctored up the packaging, and sense the passion of the companies that have passed their farming traditions down through the generations.

Behind every display is a team, and behind the colorful displays Mucci Farms builds in produce aisles across North America, there is a community excelling with flying colors.