OPN Connect Newsletter 121 · June 27, 2019

All in the Family for Veg-Fresh Farms

Dino Cancellieri Sr., one of the founding partners of Corona, CA-based Veg-Fresh Farms, first started in the produce industry in the ’70s, working for his father’s wholesale produce company, Potato Sales, on the LA Terminal Market.

Dino Cancellieri Sr., founding partner, Veg Fresh Farms

Cal Organic May 2024

Mark Widder, Cancellieri’s cousin, began working in the produce industry as a teenager alongside his cousin and the rest of the family. He spent his first 10 years learning the business as a salesman at The Potato Sales Company. 

In 1989, the two cousins opened Veg Fresh Farms, a tomato and onion repacking and distribution business with 30 employees. Over the next 30 years, Cancellieri’s three sons joined the business, ultimately becoming partners themselves, and in the last 10 years, Widder’s son, daughter, and son-in-law have also joined the family business and continue to grow the family legacy.

(left to right) Dino Cancellieri Jr, Dino Cancellieri Sr, Mark Widder, Adam Cancellieri, Randy Cancellieri

Today, the company operates out of a 200,000-square-foot facility that employs more than 300 employees.

Earthbound Farms May 2024

“Our company philosophy centers around a customer-first mentality. If a customer is looking for a specific commodity or size, we work with our numerous growing partners to source it for them,” Widder said. “We have invested heavily in our facility’s operations so that we are able to do any custom packs that our customers are looking for. When it comes to new items, we bring design and pack options straight to our customers to get their opinion and workshop the kinks out so that we deliver something that will actually work when it gets to stores.”

In 2012, Veg-Fresh Farms launched its first organic label, Good Life Organic. The original items were organic tomatoes, mainly grape and cherry tomatoes. Since then, the commodity list has grown significantly; tomatoes still being a core item of its product offering, but also now encompassing a full offering of organic vegetables (onions, potatoes, bell peppers, brussels, beans, squash), citrus, melons, tropicals, berries and more.

“This commodity growth is due to our fantastic grower relations; we partner with growers who continue to add more and more certified organic acreage and we work closely with them to plan the fields and work on new commodity development,” said Monique McLaws, marketing manager for Veg-Fresh Farms. “The demand is there and it’s high. It is a growth opportunity for companies like us and for retailers, because organics do get that higher dollar ring at the register.”

Driscolls May 2024

Day to day, customers can reach out to those at the company and get quoted on organic berries (strawberries and blueberries), organic citrus (lemons, limes, grapefruits and Navels), all varieties of organic tomatoes, organic squash, and so many more.

“Seasonally, we have an organic melon program every summer with a grower we partner with out of Central California—Del Bosque Farms. That program goes July to September,” said Randy Cancellieri, a partner with Veg-Fresh Farms. “Starting in August and going through the holiday season, we also have a great organic hard squash program which we debuted last year. Last year we focused on the three most popular varieties—acorn, butternut, and spaghetti—and this year we are continuing with those items but are also adding in red kuri, kabocha, and delicata as well.”

Randy Cancellieri, partner, Veg Fresh Farms

Cancellieri noted a big opportunity in organics comes from seeing more investment from growers across the board to convert conventional fields to organic.

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“Before, it used to be more niche or smaller growers that specialized in organics; now we are seeing bigger growers who also have the resources to invest more into organic acres,” he said. “This commitment on the grower side should help with the supply challenges we face.”

Having enough supply is the biggest challenge the company faces, as there just aren’t enough organic acres across the country to keep up with the organic demand.

“The other challenge is that organic crops come with lower yield rates. Unlike conventional, you can’t treat these crops with standard inputs, so weather hardships and/or crop diseases can diminish availability, which adds to the supply issue overall,” Cancellieri said. “Converting land to be able to grow organic also takes a tremendous amount of time as well, so matching production with demand is part of the challenge.”

Looking ahead, Veg-Fresh Farms’ strategy is to continue to evolve the company in every capacity.

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Mark Widder, partner, Veg Fresh Farms

“As far as personnel goes, we are always looking to reinforce our sales and marketing teams with key players who specialize in commodity knowledge—we’ve learned that having those experts on our side helps us make better business decisions and keeps our customers trust in us,” Widder said. “Facility-wise, we are currently in the process of becoming SQF-level 2 certified by the end of the year. Food safety continues to be paramount in this industry, and the SQF certification is one more level of food safety commitment that will differentiate us from many of our competitors.”

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