With growing operations in Mexico’s fertile Sonora region, Chucho Produce is a multifaceted international company with grower-packer-distributor divisions under one roof and is a leading producer of greenhouse and shade house Roma tomatoes, English cucumbers and Persian cucumbers. Since inception, the company’s mission has been simple: “To be the preferred and most trusted produce company, recognized for the quality of its products with excellent customer service and satisfaction.”
With a sharp focus on food safety from the shade house to the packaging line, Chucho Produce has emerged as not only a preferred grower, but also a produce industry leader, setting the bar high every growing season. “Our business really revolves around excellent service and customer satisfaction,” says Luis Mario Morales, general manager at Chucho Produce. “We do what’s right and that’s about treating each other with respect and being loyal to our customers. We figure that long term, this will differentiate us and give us a solid customer base to help continue to grow our business.”
The Chucho family of companies
Chucho Produce now operates on a much larger scale - supplying produce to customers across the United States, Canada and Mexico with a home base in Rio Rico, Arizona - but the company is the product of humble origins. Chucho Produce’s story begins with Ruben “Chucho” Gutierrez, a Sonora farmer who started with open-field operations growing jalapenos, squash, sweet corn and open field tomatoes.
“Chucho had been exporting produce to the U.S. since the early ‘90s, through his company, Agricola Palofierro, and in the mid ’90s he was one of the first in Sonora to transition from open field to shade house tomato production,” recounts Morales.
Chucho created the Chucho produce label in 1999 and some of the original fields he started on still supply the operation today. “In parallel, Chucho’s son-in-law, Alberto Cruz, started his company, Productora Horticola Alboro Export [Alboro Export],” says Morales. “In 2011, Chucho joined in business with Alberto and the two companies merged to start a distribution business.”
In 2011, the company opened its first distribution center in Rio Rico to provide direct distribution and communication to U.S. and Canadian customers. “In 2014, we launched Chucho Produce Mexico, to primarily serve retailers in Mexico,” adds Morales. “Also in 2013, we added another ranch, Agropecuaria GABO, which also exports to Chucho Produce. Today, regardless of the specific ranch or distribution business, we view ourselves as a group of unified companies.”
Now, Chucho Produce is the well-known brand and the face of the U.S. distribution company. The multi-national group also has virtual operations just outside of San Diego and a McAllen, Texas operation to better serve its growing customer base. Chucho Produce employs some 2,000 people across growing operations and field support, packaging, processing and distribution.
In addition to Luis Mario Morales, the company’s leadership team includes Chucho Gutierrez, chairman of the board, Alberto Cruz, CEO of Chucho Produce and president and founder of Alboro Export; also “Cachu” Gutierrez, board member; Tomas Gonzalez, U.S. and Canada sales; and Juan Diego Morales, Mexico sales.
Roma tomato and English cucumber production
Chucho Produce has grown by leaps and bounds since the company’s first fields. Today, Chucho Produce has approximately 420 acres (170 hectares) of greenhouse and shade house Roma tomatoes.
“This allows us to have tomato production running December through June,” says Morales. “We also specialize in English and Persian cucumbers, growing approximately 77 hectares of shade houses dedicated to cucumber production. We also grow approximately 60 hectares of jalapenos, 70 hectares of asparagus and 10 hectares of mini sweet peppers.”
The company’s highly-regarded Roma tomatoes are packed in 25-pound cartons (81 cartons to a pallet) or custom packaging, depending on the customer’s needs. English cucumbers are packaged in 12 count, 24 count or club triple packs, depending on customer’s needs and specific orders. “Persian cucumbers are also custom packed depending on our customers,” adds Morales. “We’re the largest producer by volume of Roma tomatoes in Sonora, Mexico, but we’re expanding our product line,” notes Morales. “We recently added asparagus production.”
Ensuring product quality post-harvest
Morales says all players under the Chucho Produce umbrella work with greenhouses and shade houses under strict regulations and certifications that exceed international production norms. “Our goal is to be the preferred and most trusted produce company, recognized for the quality of our products,” reiterates Morales.
He says investing in technology is vital to the company’s standing as an industry leader. “It starts with our automatic seeding equipment,” says Morales. “Our nursery using automatic seeding and purified water that’s been reverse-osmosis treated to ensure quality and safety. Trained personnel transplant from the nursery to the green or shade house and they maintain the plants at prime shape.”
Chucho Produce’s packaging line is also highly automated, implementing state-of-the-art color and size sorting lines, which avoid excessive handling. “One hundred percent of our tomatoes are electronically packed; our philosophy is you can have beautiful crop, but if you don’t package it correctly you will lose at the end,” says Morales. “We depend a lot on our packaging to protect our brand integrity. We’re also adding 40 more hectares and new packaging lines to support new production.”
Chucho Produce invests heavily in ensuring quality through post-harvest equipment and processes. “We understand the importance of handling to ensure integrity and freshness of our produce,” says Morales. “This is what makes all the difference in our products.”
In the same vein, Chucho Produce is also dedicated to food safety and the company’s facility is fully PRIMUS Certified. “In 2012, we received an award from the Government of Sonora for being the first operation that complies and exceeds all government and good health practices for our employees,” adds Morales.
Morales says it comes down to wanting to do the right thing – for growers, for employees and ultimately, for customers. For 16 years, the company has set the bar for quality production in Sonora and Chucho Produce continues to be an industry leader.