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Partners in Produce: In the Mind of Mucci

"T his is a marathon, not a sprint.” If you are Bert Mucci, CEO of Mucci Farms, these are essential words to live by in our industry. As a passionate long distance runner, Bert understands how this statement is not only a sentiment, but also a business strategy and a vision to innovate and execute for the long haul. Bert is a fierce competitor with a strong drive to succeed both personally and professionally. Each stride of the race is calculated and precise, made with intention and determination.

Luckily, in this race, Mucci Farms has a team primed for success and looking downfield as they accelerate the company’s growth and footprint. Instinctively adopting this vision for the future, Bert, along with Vice President of Operations Gianni Mucci, and Vice Presidents of Sales and Marketing Danny Mucci and Joe Spano, join me from their Kingsville, Ontario, headquarters to discuss the company’s forward momentum, the pillars that have built Mucci Farms’ success, and how a strong front positions them to impact a competitive and fast-paced industry.

Gianni Mucci, Vice President of Operations, with Mucci Farms’ Lettuce Automation Machine “Work hard, dream big, and stay humble,” Danny tells me, as we dig further into the foundation that speaks to the Mucci Farms formula and the foresight that has helped the team raise the bar at the company. “What really gets me up in the morning is my excitement to get to work and feel the energy of our staff, strategizing to stay ahead of competition in business, keeping customers happy, and having the ability to help innovate from seed to table. Bringing our customers together and anticipating what’s next to come keeps the future in perspective and the hard work worthwhile.”

When I ask Bert how the company defines Mucci Farms’ growth in recent years, he doesn’t hesitate for a moment, and you know that the team’s successes and mission are as deeply ingrained in him as anyone. Bert’s passion to be a great leader for Mucci Farms extends further than just the company, as he looks to impact the industry as a whole.

“Our growth is both strategic and holistic. We are a forward-thinking company on high-speed, and we are driven to be leaders in the industry,” Bert shares. “Our ‘set the pace’ mindset in the industry has allowed us the largest growth we have had over the last few years.”

That growth is not only in acreage but also in the number of new and innovative products and packaging releases, along with team member growth as well. In Kingsville alone, Mucci has grown the number of employees to more than 1,200 to date, and shows no signs of slowing.

A BALANCE: SCALE AND INNOVATION

So, what are some of these key ingredients that make the Mucci Farms’ program tick? This year alone, the company has expanded its operations in Huron, Ohio, with a large-scale, multi-year investment that will further establish Mucci Farms’ footprint on U.S. soil, in addition to enhancing the support for its growing U.S. customer base.

“This project will cover 60 acres and feature the latest state-of-the-art greenhouses, and a 272,000-square-foot distribution warehouse,” Danny says. “Our plan is to be harvesting from this facility by March, 2018. We value our U.S. retail partnerships and this is just one other way we are meeting the demands of local and regional demographics.”

In addition, Mucci Farms is expanding its strawberry program as it seeks to bring consumers a better, more flavorful, and consistent berry as the category continues to grow. Starting with 12 acres, the company is expanding its strawberry footprint by another 12 this year, and a future 12 acre expansion in the coming years. For phase three, Mucci will be tapping into grow light technology, allowing for year-round production. Dubbed SmucciesTM Sweet Strawberries, these vibrant gems are grown in Kingsville.

“INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY AND INCREASE EFFICIENCY, ALLOWING US TO DELIVER THE FRESHEST AND CLEANEST PRODUCT TO CONSUMERS."

- BERT MUCCI, CEO

The growth does not stop at strawberries. Mucci Farms has also expanded its hydroponic Naked LeafTM Living Lettuce operations with more acreage on the horizon. Walking through the Kingsville operation, you find yourself enveloped in the quiet whir of the company’s proprietary automation technology, which allows them to plant, harvest, and package with the highest efficiency and food safety standards in the industry.

The cool lit greenhouse is a vision of precision and synchronization, and truly leaves you feeling Zen—but also suddenly craving the artisan and romaine lettuces rising from the pools of water where they are cultivated.

“Our grow lights allow us to harvest 8,000 heads daily, 365 days per year with minimal labor,” Bert says, taking in the impact of the growing operation and beyond. Speaking of the program as a whole, he tells me, “Innovation and technology dramatically improve food safety and increase efficiency, allowing us to deliver the freshest and cleanest product to consumers. We can actually deliver lettuce in Ontario, in some cases in as fast as 24 hours. We have cases where the lettuce would be harvested today, on a truck tonight, and on a store shelf tomorrow morning. It is a commitment we strive to keep.”

With all of Mucci Farms high-tech glass operations, the company taps grow light technology using Lit Culture to offer local product, even in the winter months—this is simply another way that Mucci responds to the growing demand for its locally grown vegetables. Enter, M-Track automated harvesting carts to deliver premium food safety, speed, and efficiency, and Mucci Farms is a well-oiled machine that builds a balance between its tech-forward stance and its steadfast commitment to relationships, quality, and the story behind the brand.

Bert Mucci, CEO; Smuccies™ strawberries ripening in the mucci farms’ greenhouses

“Our commitment and dedication to the highest level of quality, consistency, and supply have inspired us to find better ways to increase efficiencies and productivity, delivering that value to our customers and the consumer. Investments in innovation and tech differentiates Mucci Farms from other companies because it demonstrates a commitment to moving the industry forward,” Joe shares with me. “We always keep a high bar on flavor and the technologies we adapt really help us execute the Mucci Farms formula as well.”

Speaking of flavor, Mucci Farms also launched its ChertoTM gourmet cherry tomatoes on the vine this year, a variety it searched the world over in order to help bring more flavor back to the category.

Many say consumers shop with their eyes first. So, what makes a consumer a repeat shopper? Flavor and quality: a dual mission for Mucci Farms. The company also debuted its kid-centric Veggies-to-GoTM EZ Snap packaging for the convenience-seeking consumer or family unit that desires health-conscience snacking options. Coming soon, Naked LeafTM Salad Kits featuring Romaine Lettuce. Innovation is never far down the road for Mucci Farms.

Mucci Farms’ program also brings high food safety standards that consistently pass audits, and bring traceability, and sustainability into the fold so that retail partners can not only sleep well at night, but know that the Mucci Farms commitment has touched every point in the supply chain, from the seed to the produce department.

“In order for us to hit all of our marks, execution is key,” Joe tells me. “As a vertically integrated company, we bring competitive pricing to market, paired with premium quality and hand-selected, best-in-class varieties. Exceptional branding and marketing support to facilitate sales is also a key element of our program.”

With retail and product education support always top-of-mind for the company’s customers, Mucci Farms is also bringing the Fresh Market Academy resource to help retailers differentiate, connect with the consumer, and build more value in the produce department.

MORE THAN A MISSION: STRATEGIC PILLARS

With Mucci Farms on a mission to accelerate growth and set a new pace in the produce industry, what are those pillars that not only allow the company to bring a premier product to market, but grow its relationships and its vision? The team breaks it down, and it starts with the desire to create irresistible cravings for healthy choices by passionately growing fresh, flavorful, greenhouse-grown produce.

“One of our strategic pillars is quality farming. This means bringing greenhouse fruit and vegetable products with superior flavor and the highest quality and freshness delivered through award-winning branding and packaging, to our customers,” Bert shares with me.

That tenet has helped the company create broad brush strokes of change for Mucci Farms, while also helping the company define its brand and calling.

“Having an innovative spirit is also a key for diversification within the company, and a way for us to differentiate within the competitive greenhouse sector,” Danny tells me. “With a commitment to research and development, we consistently make significant investments into state-of-the-art robotics and technology to efficiently deliver innovative products and packaging.”

“A passionate team of respectful, dedicated professionals, driven to succeed through a genuine appreciation for our company and its work culture, is also one of our strategic pillars,” Gianni says, adding, “Operational excellence is an essential component in our formula and plan for success and growth.”

Mucci Farms is dedicated to operational excellence with a commitment to continuous improvements of methods to increase productivity, reduce waste, and deliver products efficiently with the highest food safety standards in the industry.

One thing I have always appreciated about the Mucci Farms team is how they value their customers and consumer-base.

“This is a family-owned company, and we surround ourselves with a team of resilient customers, growers, and suppliers that support the community, our industry, and the overall mission of the organization,” Joe says. “Our message as ‘Partners In Produce’ isn’t just a branding catch phrase, it is a promise.”

And Mucci is standing behind this promise as they continue building relationships with their #partnersinproduce vision.

ALL IN IT TOGETHER

The team mentality at Mucci Farms did not just materialize out of thin air. It was built by family.

The roots of Mucci Farms started with a dream. Founders Tony and Gino Mucci arrived in Canada from Italy in 1961, and rented farmland, on share, until they were able to purchase their first 21 acres of land in 1963. They successfully grew a variety of vegetables on this land until they purchased additional land and began to focus their efforts on tomatoes. As the family grew the business, more land was purchased and greenhouses were built.

Danny Mucci, Bert Mucci, and Joe Spano standing in the doorway to their new greenhouse expansion for hydroponically grown  Smuccies™  strawberriesTaking control of packing and marketing, Mucci Pac and Mucci International Marketing were formed in 1994 and 2000 respectively, followed by additional greenhouse expansion in 1997 and warehouse expansion in 1998. Today, Bert and Danny, Tony’s children, and Gino’s son Gianni are carrying on their parents’ entrepreneurial spirit.

Joe grew up with the Mucci family and was offered an incredible opportunity in 1999, when the company decided to make what was a huge and unheard of move at the time.

“The company went from being a traditional support grower to forging its own destiny in the sales and marketing world,” Joe smiles, reminiscing about the early days. “With one desk, one phone, a broken chair, a wooden tomato crate, and a red book that we shared, Danny and I launched Mucci International Marketing in 1999 for the Sales and Marketing Division of Mucci Farms. We were off to the races.”

With no real handbook or initial guidance, Danny and Joe hit the ground running with simply their drive to succeed and their passion for the business.

“Honestly, looking back, I never thought we would hit such heights,” Joe says. “Our mandate was to do a good job for our farms, for our growers, and to protect our brand–put out the best pack and get a good return for the farms. Nothing else.”

Founders Tony and Gino Mucci laid out some basic principles for Joe, and they have helped shape the direction of sales and marketing, as well as the incredible growth in recent years. It is these words that have always stuck with Joe.

“They told me, Joe, you are only as good as your word: deliver what you promise, and treat every sale, every customer, as if they were the most important delivery, the most important customer in the world. Big or small it doesn’t matter. Our name is on the box so every box is the best,” Joe reflects.

How does this translate to a team geared for unprecedented growth in 2017? Execution at all levels of the company.

“I expect no less from my team than I do of myself. That means 100 percent from our cleaning people to our sales and marketing people,” Joe says.

“HAVING AN INNOVATIVE SPIRIT IS ALSO A KEY FOR DIVERSIFICATION WITHIN THE COMPANY, AND A WAY FOR US TO DIFFERENTIATE WITHIN THE COMPETITIVE GREENHOUSE SECTOR."

- DANNY MUCCI, VICE PRESIDENT OF SALES AND MARKETING

Execute to the best of your ability and good things will happen–treat the customers right and they will treat you right. It is that “our name is on every box” kind of accountability that the entire team shares.

Bert, Danny, and Gianni grew up with a passion for farming, working alongside their families in the greenhouses, learning the business and building relationships. In the early 1990s, Bert set out to rent greenhouses to gain further experience and a better understanding of growing vegetables under glass before building his first three acres of greenhouses. Fast forward to 2017, and three acres have grown to over 200 in Canada, with 60 under construction in the U.S., marketing for over 700 acres in North America through Mucci International Marketing. The team has also consistently expanded both companies since their founding–investing in tech and cutting-edge growing practices as well.

“I love the challenges and always learning new technologies,” Gianni says. “The mind never stops, and there is always something new to learn. I love the Mucci team and dedicated employees we have. We are all working on striving to be the best in the industry. The words I live by are ‘never give up,’ and the sentiment is in each and every one of us on the Mucci team.”

The passion from this team is contagious and you can tell that, even as forward thinking as they are, Mucci’s team is incredibly grounded in their values and their appreciation for the road that has brought them here.

I pause to ask Bert what keeps him up at night? I bet you guessed it.

Figuring out what to do next.