TAMPA, Fla. — Participants saw for themselves the freeze-induced shortages of Florida winter produce crop during this year’s Southern Exposure 2010.

Busloads of retail and foodservice buyers visited central Florida blueberry and tomato packing and repacking operations during the first formal day of the Southeast Produce Council’s winter convention.

Southern Exposure participants see Florida supply shortages

Doug Ohlemeier

Marvin Lyons (left), produce director with Supervalu’s Biggs Hyper Shoppes, Cincinnati, and Jean-Pierre Fournier, senior regional procurement manager for Toronto-based Sobeys Inc.'s Boynton Beach, Fla., buying office,  view cluster tomatoes at DiMare Fresh’s Tampa repacking operation during growing and packing tours at the Southeast Produce Council’s Southern Exposure.

Participants viewed lower than normal volumes running on packing lines during visits to berry and tomato grower-shipper Clear Springs Packing LLC, Bartow, and DiMare Fresh-Tampa Inc., Riverview, the tomato repacking operation of Arlington, Texas-based DiMare Fresh.

At the DiMare Fresh operation, participants viewed tomato repacking and walked into a cooling room that was holding only a small number of pallets of tomatoes.

“This is scary,” said Tom Bruno, DiMare Fresh’s operations manager. “We can put 200 trailer loads in this room. It is scary and unusual that we are not having a lot of fruit.”

The DiMare operation on a normal weekday would be running all three of its packing lines. On March 5, it was only running its mature-greens repacking line.

Bruno told the buyers how DiMare ensures food safety through proper product identification from arrival through shipping.

Food safety procedures were also a central part of the presentation during a stop at the Clear Springs packing operation.

Clear Springs personnel took the visitors on a tour of immature blueberry bushes, which should be ready for harvest later in March or early April, and showed the grower-shippers’ grape tomato packing line.

The convention, which started on March 4 with a golf tournament, is expected to draw record attendance.

Up to 236 retail and foodservice participants played in the golf tournament, while the tours attracted 75 people, said Tom Page, council president and East Coast procurement manager for the Lakeland office of Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Supervalu Inc.  

Southern Exposure continues on March 5-6 with receptions, opening and clos-ing parties, educational sessions and a trade show.