Trends, like seasons, come and go. A hot summer one year does not foretell a hot summer the next. What may be the star of one chef’s menu may never appear on another’s. While we as an industry take stock of trends, we are not, however, under their spell. We, like Freska Produce International, chart our own course.
But charting a course is not as simple as it seems. It requires foresight, dedication, and the ability to shake up one’s entire operations—and be ready for any challenges that come along the way. For Freska, plotting coordinates on the mango map meant reinvigorating a category that until only recently had captured the widespread adoration of consumers. It meant procuring the best growers from around the world, harnessing talent from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, and Mexico. It meant putting together a team of quality control experts to travel to those regions and ensure only the best quality mangos were being brought to market. And it meant looking to the future and achieving Fair Trade Certification.
“Fair Trade Certification is something that we are very passionate about as we have seen how it changes people’s lives,” Gary Clevenger begins. “We get a lot of workers that want to come work for us because we pay a higher wage—meaning that we have a constant supply of good, dependable labor as we continue to grow our Fair Trade program.”
Consumers are no longer just looking at whether or not an item is tasty, priced affordably, and convenient. They’re looking at the overarching effect of the company on the world, such as its social and ethical impacts on the communities in which it grows. For those companies that bear the Fair Trade seal, it communicates several important elements of social responsibility to both retailers and shoppers. The Fair Trade Certification ensures that rules are followed to create a better workplace environment and protect workers’ rights. Some elements it investigates are the use of under-age labor, fair treatment and wages for employees, and the availability of a direct phone number to call Fair Trade if workers feel they are being mistreated in any way.
However, becoming a certified Fair Trade company is not as simple as being presented with a certificate. Rather, it requires innovating business practices from the ground up.
“Fair Trade Certification is something that we are very passionate about as we have seen how it changes people’s lives.”
- Gary Clevenger, Managing Principal, Freska Produce International
“These certifications are very demanding and have a long list of items that we need to perform both socially and food safety-wise,” Gary continues. As Freska’s Managing Principal, he’s more than aware of the necessary steps to take. “This is what makes the Fair Trade symbol one that consumers can be confident in, where they know that business practices are being done differently than other companies.”
How we grow our food is not only an industry discussion but an ongoing worldwide conversation. Denoting one’s products as being fairly sourced is just one way that companies like Freska have differentiated themselves from others. As both consumers and buyers have changed their approach to mangos in recent years, it’s critical to highlight the importance of these programs in capturing market share.
“Through the efforts of mango shippers and the National Mango Board, consumption of mangos has grown tremendously in the last few years. This is due to a number of factors, including just how popular the fruit has become across the retail and foodservice sectors. Everything from dried mangos to fresh-cut mangos appears on restaurant menus and at fast-casual smoothie chains,” Gary explains. “The mango flavor has been trending everywhere, which has driven sales of fresh mangos because everyone is chasing after that flavor. I am positive this will do nothing but increase over the coming years, even double over the next five.”
With such intense category expansion on the horizon, Freska and its grower-partners are working at double-speed to ensure that their mango programs have the infrastructure necessary to deliver for increasing demand.
“We have been selling dried mangos to retailers in the United States, and at this point, demand is growing to the extent that it exceeds supply. We are working as fast as possible to get more supplies so we can grow this commodity as it’s a wonderful product that has huge growth potential for us,” Gary remarks.
Alongside its Fair Trade certification, Freska has worked to become a more sustainable company overall. This kind of commitment does not come as a shock when Gary explains it to me, but it’s heartening to see where the company’s ship is headed nonetheless.
“Not everybody sees these parts of our business, but we do it out of a personal necessity and responsibility.”
“Recently, Freska’s headquarters in Oxnard, California, began using 100 percent renewable energy with our solar energy installation, meaning that we now have retrofitted lights with LEDs. We feel it’s our responsibility to teach sustainability to our employees in ways that show them that the little things we do amount to big changes overall—and a higher standard for our company. Not everybody sees these parts of our business, but we do it out of a personal necessity and responsibility,” Gary reflects. “We work hard to recycle cardboard and other materials so we don’t add to landfills. And in the rare case of having to get rid of product, we repurpose it as cattle feed rather than add it to the trash.”
It’s these seemingly small changes that encompass the overarching culture of a company. Each change puts a pin on the map until the course becomes clear to all who look at it.
And as I look back at the plotted course, the message of Freska’s efforts rings clear: The long-standing trend doesn’t fall far from the mango tree.