New Limeco LLC: Bringing the Tropics Safely to Table

It began with a young couple packing avocados in their living room. The history of Acosta Farms is a story of hard work, perseverance and resilience. Alcides Acosta was born to a farming family in Cuba. After arriving in the United States in 1962, he settled in Chicago, Ill., and soon met his wife, Lali. They both worked in factories – she in electronics and he in auto parts. The couple moved to Homestead, Fla., in 1968, where they began packing tropical fruit by hand. They also started growing malanga and other Cuban vegetables on a few acres, and eventually branched out into avocados, limes and mangoes.
 
Now also owners of New Limeco LLC, the Acosta family is a true reflection of America at its best. From packing avocados on the kitchen table, the Acosta family have become one of the most respected and successful agricultural families in Florida. The Acosta family has definitely set a good example for doing business. The Acostas are a successful, hard-working family with extraordinary ethics, who have adapted well to the ever-changing agricultural markets in south Dade County. Their handshake and word is as good as a written contract. The Acosta’s have been members of Dade County Farm Bureau for 30 years. “Through all of the ups and downs, we wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Alcides Acosta.
 
A Company with a New Vision
Eddie Caram, who became general manager of New Limeco in January of 2009, has set the vision for the company. New Limeco has been steadily growing into one of the largest full-line Florida avocado, tropical fruit and vegetable growers and shippers in Florida. Caram’s experience has established relationships and partnerships with prestigious growers throughout Mexico and Central and South America, ensuring that limes, mangos and papayas, plus Latin roots and vegetables, are available to customers year-round.
 
New Limeco’s papaya project continues to grow in Belize and Guatemala, and it is expanding with the company’s new prestigious Sunset Jewel label providing the quality of papaya that customers expect in today’s market. In addition to these main items, Acosta Groves/New Limeco offers its own locally grown tropical fruit, such as like starfruit, lychee, mamey, guava and passion fruit – just to name a few. If it’s grown in tropical South Florida, NLC can get it for you. 
 
The company’s “business goal” is to deliver the best quality and service possible to customers through loyalty, honesty and hard work. New Limeco shares this commitment with all its growers and suppliers to uphold customers’ needs as the number one most important part of business. By maintaining the highest standards of food safety, quality and integrity New Limeco can “Bring the Tropics to Your Table.”
 
 On the Cutting Edge of Food Safety
The firm’s necessity and ambition led New Limeco to become one of the only avocado packing and shipping companies in the area to have a traceability system for every Florida avocado that comes in the packing facility.
 
“Our goal as a company is to be able to produce something unique that the customer can have confidence in spending their hard-earned dollars on,” asserts Don Edgar, operations manager at New Limeco. “Food safety and traceability are things that to us, as a company, we believe are the most important things that the customer is entitled to, and we have adopted new technologies and programs to ensure that every single one of our avocados and limes are safe to eat and can be accounted for at every point from grove to table.”
 
The firm prides itself on having adopted technology in anticipation of increased USDA regulations. “About three years ago we started researching a company called ScoringAG, and this year we partnered with them. ScoringAg’s role was to outfit us with a complete traceability system for food safety,” says Edgar.
 
“It’s essentially a trace-back system that assigns every piece a unique identifier that will be printed along with the barcode on a label that will be applied to each Florida Avocado we pack. This unique SSI number provided by ScoringAg and placed on the left side of the label is a full record-keeping, traceback and labeling system that meets the new standard of the FDA. Consumers have a right to know the relevant information about the products they buy. We support the role and responsibility of the FDA to determine appropriate food labeling and this labeling will allow the customer to access a public record thru Traceback.com, providing a complete history of how their item was handled from the time it was harvested to the time they purchase it.
 
“For security reasons, we’re not able to release all of the specific data to the general public, but it would give them enough information to get in touch with the responsible party if there were a problem and that party would have access to trace it back completely,” continues Edgar. “Every piece of fruit being packed right now has one.”
 
The new technology has amplified transparency in an industry that is becoming increasingly regulated, especially after food safety concerns over virulent salmonella strains in Germany earlier in 2011.
 
“It takes an incredibly sophisticated system, but we were lucky enough to have been on the cutting edge of this technology because in January of 2010, President Obama signed a bill giving the USDA the authority to hold and quarantine any suspicious or possibly contaminated produce from both overseas and domestically for 30 days,” says Edgar. “Do you know what would happen to fresh papayas after 30 days in quarantine? You would be taking them straight to the dump after 30 days.
 
“So it really is in everybody’s best interest to maximize the amount of information they have access to about the origin and handling of produce,” continues Edgar. “From a documentation standpoint, we have to be very prepared and even though it has taken a lot of training and education on our part to make this technology successful, we’re very proud of what we have accomplished.”
 
In addition to adopting its cutting-edge traceability early in the game New Limeco is also one of the only USDA-certified pick-houses that can actually inspect and certify its own produce as such. Even still, the company insists on also maintaining a third-party auditing system, Primus Labs, to ensure that all produce, both domestic and from overseas, is correctly handled, packed and distributed according to Global Food Safety Standards.
 
The company markets many locally grown South Florida items. And while its own crops have narrowed in scope, New Limeco holds strategic partnerships with growers in the Dominican Republic to provide avocados almost 10 months a year, and works with importers throughout Central and South America to assure limes and mangoes are available all year, and that almost two-dozen tropical and Latin items, including root vegetables and squashes, can be procured.
 
 
Staying Safe, Staying in Business
The company is proud of its efforts to stay ahead of food safety regulations, going above and beyond to offer the best produce at all times, but New Limeco understands having the right third-party partners serves little purpose if the company itself is not in order. For this reason, works equally as hard on maintaining a safe workplace for its employees.
 
“We are constantly upgrading our packing facility with new equipment and it’s important for us to make sure all of our employees are safe. We partnered with the University of South Florida to help advise us on the areas we could improve on to maximize workplace safety, and because of our efforts over the years we were awarded the Sharp Award by the State of Florida and OSHA,” beams Edgar. “So far [in 2011] we have been successful in keeping the accident rate at zero and we’re very excited about it. It’s definitely a milestone for us and when good things come of our efforts, it really helps to motivate everybody to keep up the good work.”
 
New Limeco will continue to grow its capabilities to pack and ship its produce from the company’s current facility. However, New Limeco eventually hopes to represent additional growers from overseas and to create new markets for its existing products.
 
“As we continue to develop our food safety program, we hope to be able to represent more Central and South American growers and to provide them with a market for those goods. We’re particularly interested in expanding the market share of our Florida avocados, because the Haas avocado dominates the West coast and it would be great for us to be able to capture some of those markets,” opines Edgar. “We’re also looking at the process of trademarking our Sunset Jewel Papayas. We see it as a great way to live up to our motto and mission to ‘bring the tropics to your table’ year-round.”
 
Many markets have been sluggishly recovering from the economic downturn, but Edgar remains optimistic for NLC. “I am a patriot with a military background and I have hope,” asserts Edgar. “If we don’t have hope, what do we have? I have to put a certain amount of faith in our leadership and I look to the future with hope and my faith in God. If you keep our eyes peeled for the right windows of opportunity, we will find them.”
 
A legacy of hard work, confidence and quality has helped Acosta Farms/New Limeco LLC grow, and with innovative procedures in place the company will continue to bring delicious, health-conscious produce to its consumers.