Mango growers and shippers are working to green up their businesses in conjunction with a produce industry that is marketing itself as environmentally friendly.

Reaching the ideal plane of sustainability can be a struggle, but the business is making steady progress, industry leaders say.

“It’s another thing we’re working on,” said Larry Nienkerk, chairman of the National Mango Board and a partner and general manager at Burlingame, Calif.-based Splendid Products LLC. “We’re still in a position of formulating some kind of policy or approach, but basically all the major chains are pushing to get information for their customers.”

Customers want to know progress is being made at every level of the supply chain, Nienkerk said.
“Those are all things that we on the board are now considering and working to come up with some answers for people,” he said.

But it isn’t easy in all cases, he noted, because mango growers ship product from an array of regions and countries that have their own hurdles.

“Being in that mix, it’s such a diverse group of people in the mango industry, different wants and needs and so on, not everybody is in agreement or is really able to put as their primary concern the element of sustainability,” Nienkerk said. “Some fruit comes from countries where the people are very poor and their first concern is not with sustainability — not that.”

Nienkerk said he was not downplaying the importance of sustainability efforts, adding that the industry is making progress in all regions.

“There are other concerns, to come up with some kind of general approach to answer the question of sustainability,” he said. “We are working together on a policy.”

Some shippers say that mangoes give them something of a head start on sustainability.

“Mostly, mangoes have always been in a plain cardboard box that’s recyclable. The fruit is virtually chemical-free,” said Michael Warren, president of Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Central American Produce. “When something attacks them a lot of natural products are used to fight them.”

Nevertheless, the industry is vigilant in taking even more steps toward a greener industry, said Tony Godinez, owner of Hidalgo, Texas-based Godinez International LLC and FreshRite LLC.

“With regard to the mango industry, sustainability in general is a relatively new concept to grower-producers, but it’s something the mango board has taken steps to identify and promote…” said Godinez, a member of the mango board.

Congress is considering increasing weight limits on trucks from the current 80,000 pounds to 97,000. Some states have undertaken pilot programs to allow higher limits.

That would help the mango industry in terms of costs and sustainability, said Chris Ciruli, a partner in Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC.

“Right now, Mexico offers a 100,000-pound weight limit to ship product, and we’re trying to come to a common number closer in between,” he said. “For one thing, it would reduce fuel costs for fruit coming from Mexico. Secondly, it would reduce the amount of trucks actually coming into the country, as well as trucks idling, waiting to come in.”

Some shippers are taking a look at the types of packing materials they use.

“Mangoes are pretty environmentally friendly, but we’re always looking for environmentally friendly and value-added packaging and that type of thing,” said Gary Clevenger, managing member of Freska Produce International LLC, Oxnard, Calif.

He said the company is looking into adding solar power to its facilities in Oxnard, Calif., and Nogales.

He doesn’t know, though, when that would happen.

“I think when the economy went south, a lot of people who lend money in that area were tightening their belts and kind of suffered in that area,” he said.

(Note on correction: The article originally had the name of FreshRite LLC incorrect.)