(Oct. 25) LOXAHATCHIE, Fla. — A big acreage expansion and a growing offshore deal should help J&J Produce Inc. ship Southern vegetables more consistently throughout the year.

The family-owned, fourth-generation company has also formed a trucking division and is doing more of its own growing and shipping.

Partnering with LaBelle-based Alico Inc. — one of Florida’s biggest landowners and a large processed citrus grower — J&J has increased its acreage to 1,500 acres, triple last year’s 500 acres for south Florida bell pepper, cucumbers, squash and eggplant production.

The new 1,000 acres, south of Clewiston, should help ensure J&J doesn’t experience product shortages during growing area transitions, said Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing.

Though he declined to state sales numbers, Rayfield said J&J’s sales increased 20% over last year and expects to double its sales during the next five years.

“We’re growing like crazy,” he said. “We can’t seem to get enough J&J-labeled Trophy Pack product, as our customers know we’re always buying other products to take care of their business. This will ensure that we have a constant and consistent supply chain of food-safe product packed in our label all winter long.”

Jim Erneston, J&J’s president and owner, said the joint venture represents a strong mix between a vegetable grower-shipper and an agribusiness operation that has an eye on the future.

“They (Alico) want a future in and want to be a bigger player in produce,” he said. “Their track record is what brought us to them. They care about Florida and its resources. They want to keep their land in agriculture.”

To keep product flowing outside of its Florida and south Georgia growing seasons, J&J has expanded its import program.

The company last year began importing Dominican Republic colored hothouse bell peppers. J&J plans to double the containers it brings in from the growing region this year, Rayfield said. J&J had been importing two to three containers a week.

J&J has added Honduran squash and eggplant and Panamanian watermelon.

The offshore deal, which has J&J financially involved in some of the product it sources, should help J&J supplement its Florida acreage to meet growing customer demand, Rayfield said.

Jim Erneston (left), president and owner of J&J Produce Inc., Loxahatchee, Fla., and John Alexander, president and chief executive officer of LaBelle, Fla.-based Alico Inc., examine some young bell pepper transplants in a field south of Clewiston, Fla.