Empaque Rio Colorado

28 years of family farming and high food safety standards in Sonora
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

Based in Sonora, Yucatan, Empaque Rio Colorado (ERC) is a grower, packer and shipper of Mexican-grown produce, mainly green onions and asparagus, with a family history that spans generations. “My grandfather was a field worker as part of the bracero program and my father was as well until he founded his own company,” says Jose Carrasco, operations manager of ERC.

Jose’s father, Enrique Carrasco, now president of ERC, founded the operation in the mid -1980s with just 200 acres. Today, ERC grows green and dry onions, broccoli, asparagus, celery and even watermelons on 5,000 acres and employs more than 5,000 individuals.

Family roots and core values

“We’re proud of what we do and the fact that we are family-owned and -operated,” says Jose. “The business remains very much in the family. My brothers, cousins and uncles work at ERC too. We’re also very proud to support 5,000 local jobs.”

Jose and his brothers were born and raised in the produce business, following in their father’s footsteps. “We were working in the fields at 16 or 17 years old and we worked on the harvesting crew,” he recounts. “From there, we went on to the packing line and the warehouse where we did inventories.”

“I studied economics in college, so now I’m involved in the commercial and packing side of the operation,” continues Jose. “One of my brothers is an engineer and he is also on the operations side. My father is still the company director. Overall, we try to stay involved in every part of the business, even as the company has grown.”

Since establishment, family-run ERC has honed in on honesty, responsibility and loyalty in business with top-notch food safety and traceability programs that have been recognized by industry and government organizations.

Seed to final product

Today, 97 percent of the company’s produce travels to the U.S., but ERC also has customers throughout Europe, Thailand and other corners of the world. “Our mission has always been to export quality produce to the U.S. – that’s where we started, but today we’re growing on global scale,” says Jose. “We’ve grown many items over the years but our focus is green onions. We pack for many different shippers, including big names such as Green Giant and Dole. We also pack under our own label, ERC, with a U.S. sales company called ERC Trade that has been doing business since 2010.”

ERC started as just a grower, but the company has steadily built all facets of the operation, now growing, packing and exporting product. “We put the seed in ground and then we deliver product to two distribution centers – Yuma in the winter and Salinas in the summer,” says Jose. “We’re doing more now but we’re still recognized as a major grower and we have an established partnership with Growers Express.”

ERC is known for its green onions – packed under its own proprietary label and for other big industry names – but Jose says the company is diversifying in other avenues as well. “We’re in the process of rolling out a new year-round asparagus program which will complement our 12 month green onion program,” adds Jose. “We are also growing on the organics side with organic broccoli, green beans and kale.”

Setting the bar in food safety standards

No matter the produce item there’s one common thread that ties ERC’s operation together – an industry-leading food-safety program. “We uphold a very tightly controlled, strict food safety program,” outlines Jose. “You name the certification and we have it.”

When selling to European customers, ERC is an ASDA-UK authorized supplier. “This is a really strict standard to meet,” says Jose. “We also implement a HACCP program in our packing house, part of a global food safety initiative.”

Aside from food safety, ERC is also working on social certifications to ensure better working conditions. “There is a negative connotation in the industry when it comes to Mexican growers and working conditions,” says Jose. “We’re working on certifications to ensure our operations are free of child labor [in Mexico that’s 17 years old and under] but our policies have prohibited that for a long time. We’re working to set the standard and go against the negative publicity on these issues. Just because we’re growing in Mexico doesn’t mean we’re doing the same things – we’re working to do them right.”

ERC has been nationally recognized for its commitment to bettering the industry. “In December 2014 my father was awarded the National Agribusiness Award, given to him by the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, and the Secretary of Agriculture,” shares Jose. “This is a huge honor for us as it reflects 30 years of hard work and building our operation the right way.”

The values of honesty, loyalty and responsibility continue to be the foundation of ERC’s operation. Backed by family ownership and these core values, as well as a strong desire to better the name of the Mexican growing industry, Empaque Rio Colorado is building on 30 years of successful business.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Jordan Implement Co.