London Fruit Inc.
The produce import business is booming in the lower Rio Grande Valley, particularly in Pharr, Texas, where London Fruit Inc. is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the regional growth. Located just a mile north of the Pharr International Bridge along the U.S./Mexico border, London Fruit has made a mission out of providing quality mangoes, avocados, limes and more from neighboring Mexican grower partners.
With more produce players entering the Pharr, Texas, market in the last decade, London Fruit was one of the first to call the area home. The family-owned business began in 1981, founded by Barry London, who remains president.
Perfect positioning builds partnerships
“Barry positioned London Fruit in Pharr before the major highway-bridge was constructed, but knowing the promise of it was coming down the road,” explains Jerry Garcia, vice president and co-owner of London Fruit. “In the last eight years or so, things have really turned on in Pharr and we’re in a prime location; it’s ideal as it allows for quick and easy access to the I-69C/US Hwy 281 corridor.”
Garcia joined London Fruit in 1990. “I was hired for mango procurement down in Mexico,” he says. “My job was to source and build relationships with growers and maintain quality control. I’ve been with the company ever since.”
Over the course of 30 years, London Fruit has established a core group of trusted growers, an essential part of the business, says Garcia. “We have longstanding relationships with both small and large growers across Mexico, from large agribusinesses to small family farms,” he details.
Ripe with potential
London Fruit began importing mangoes and pineapples, adding more to its product lineup as grower relations flourished and U.S. markets opened. “We started in mangoes and pineapples, adding limes and then eight years ago when the market opened up, we started warehousing avocados in Texas because it was right on our backdoor,” says Garcia. “Initially, avocados could only be received in 13 states, so it didn’t make sense for us to get into the full U.S. market.”
“In our business, where we do a lot of LTL shipments, avocados were a perfect fit because we could sell a couple pallets or a whole load,” adds Garcia. “We sell to everything from small retailers and wholesalers to large chain stores.”
Sourcing exclusively from Mexico, the company now sells to all corners of the U.S., with clients in California, Minnesota, New York and everywhere in between. “We process, repackage and distribute all over the country from our 45,000-square-foot facility in Pharr,” says Garcia. “We provide inspection, grading, custom packaging, value-added services, cold storage, natural ripening services, automated sorting, grading and sizing of limes in-house.”
Hands and eyes on quality control and food safety
From its offices and warehouse space in Pharr, London Fruit packages and inspects every ounce of product by hand; something Garcia says is less likely these days in produce operations. “We offer a little higher level of service than other companies,” he measures. “We hand check 100 percent of our product; we’re a very hands-on company.”
Limes, mangoes, avocados – no matter the product, each are held in designated temperature-controlled cold rooms to ensure consistency in the ripening process. “We also load every day, even Sunday if we have to,” says Garcia. “Most people in the valley don’t do this but we get our trucks in and out as fast as we can, seven days a week.”
Even though London Fruit has moved up in size, from a small to more midsized company, Garcia says the firm’s focus remains on quality control. “Being hands-on and quality-control minded; these things remain our core values and the foundation of the company,” he assures. “We’re utilizing and continuously improving our best practices, policies and procedures to ensure the highest level of food safety and quality.”
The company’s cold rooms use NASA developed Airocide PPT technology, reducing 95 percent of all airborne mold and fungi and 100 percent of airborne bacteria. In 2006, London Fruit became Primus Certified and the company maintains a 97 percent rating. “In 2013, we gained the next level of PrimusGFS certification,” adds Garcia.
From the warehouse to the field, London Fruit’s field staff works directly with growers and packers in Mexico, emphasizing advanced growing methods and clean packaging environments. With this mindset, London Fruit continues to develop new markets in the ever-evolving produce industry.
“We also offer custom packaging and value-added programs,” shares Garcia. “We pack our product specific to our customers’ specifications and it often ends up in large retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Costco.”
While London Fruit’s proximity to growers in Pharr is ideal, Garcia says the company’s biggest logistical challenge is freight. “Offshore products affect us a lot because we can’t compete against freight; we have the competitive price to start, but when you factor in freight that makes it difficult,” explains Garcia.
But Garcia says these challenges are just part of daily business and have not hindered the family-owned business from charging forward. After 32 years London Fruit Inc. continues to import and distribute the best of Mexico’s tropical produce to burgeoning U.S. markets.