Grower-shippers are looking forward to stronger demand after a disappointing 2012, particularly when it comes to tomatoes.

“We’re looking forward to a little better year,” said Doug Kling, chief sales and marketing officer for Eatontown, N.J.-based Village Farms LP.

A major problem last season was a glut of tomatoes on the vine, Kling said.

Growers seem committed to doing all they can to make sure there isn’t a repeat of that scenario in 2013, he said.

“People are looking at better ratios, a broader mix,” he said. “The greenhouse industry is like anything else — it finds a balance.”


Optimism for this year

So far, 2013 has gotten off to a much better start than 2012, said Mike Reed, president of Langley, British Columbia-based BC Hot House Foods Inc.

“Last year was a horrible market out of Mexico,” he said.

A combination of lighter Mexican volumes and stronger demand this season have helped turn that around, Reed said.

One of the categories Aaron Quon, greenhouse and vegetable category director for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, is most excited about this year is cucumbers.

“Our cucumber program has grown exponentially,” he said. “We began shipping SunSelect-branded long English cucumbers in January, our earliest start ever.”

That was possible, Quon said, because Randhawa Farms, which packs under the SunSelect brand, grows cucumbers under lights, enabling year-round availability.

Rising organic demand also should play a role in boosting cucumber sales this year for Oppenheimer.

“We are looking forward to adding organic cucumbers from OriginO by mid-March,” Quon said. “The popularity of organics continues to build at the consumer level, and our top quality greenhouse items, like those grown by OriginO, can help retailers differentiate in the organic category.”


Robust demand

Tim Cunniff, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Madison, Maine-based Backyard Farms LLC, said demand for greenhouse vegetables in his corner of the country is robust.

“In the Northeast, we have a pretty strong greenhouse market,” he said. “Demand has been fairly steady.”

Last year, business was off a bit, Cunniff said.

But that was an aberration. Most years since Backyard Farms was founded, the company has enjoyed steady growth.

Backyard Farms, however, seeks to differentiate not just between greenhouse and field-grown in the marketplace, but also between its own greenhouse-grown and other greenhouse-grown product, Cunniff said.

“We focus on ourselves more than the industry and on how we’re different from everybody,” Cunniff said, citing things such as the company’s year-round sourcing from its Maine facility and its reliance on a local work force.


Traditional pattern in 2013

Greenhouse’s food safety bona fides continue to help drive strong demand, said Joe Spano, vice president of sales and marketing for Mucci Farms, Kingsville, Ontario.

“Demand for our product is always great, and every year we see higher demand,” he said.

Demand in 2013 should bounce back from last year’s lull, Spano said.

“Last year there was a unique overlap,” he said. “It was a perfect storm in all directions. This year we’re seeing more of a traditional pattern, whether it’s less acreage, later plantings — it’s hard to put your finger on it.”

For Mike Aiton, marketing director at Prime Time International, Coachella, Calif., the clearest sign of the strength of the greenhouse vegetable industry close to home can be seen in his company’s decision to double the acreage at its Coachella greenhouse facility over the past two years.

Prime Time produces greenhouse colored bell peppers, mini bell peppers and vine-ripe round, roma and grape tomatoes. It also has facilities in mainland Mexico and Baja California.

Its Coachella greenhouse division is 100% peppers, Aiton said.

Prime Time’s growth in Coachella and in its greenhouse vegetable program in general has not come at the expense of its field production, Aiton said.

“Greenhouse isn’t stealing acreage from field-grown,” he said. “For Prime Time, field-grown still is the dominant percentage of our production.”

What the company’s greenhouse program offers is a chance to keep all its customers satisfied.

“We have hothouse because different customers prefer different things,” he said.

Looking at the industry as a whole, however, Aiton sees robust demand for greenhouse-grown vegetables.

With the growing popularity of greenhouse-grown has come diversity, Aiton said.

“It used to be just tomatoes and peppers,” he said. “Now it’s expanded to a lot of other products grown indoors.”