A leading Michigan fruit and vegetable grower and distributor hopes to build its brand south of the border, and grapes and melons will be the first commodities to bear the company’s name on packs.


Hudsonville-based Superior Sales Inc. announced in January the creation of a new division devoted to Mexican-grown fruits and vegetables: Nogales, Ariz.-based Supe-rior/South, said Brian LaForest, a salesman for the company.


Superior has been importing grapes from the Sonora growing region of Mexico since 1998, LaForest said. Mexican vegetables followed in 2002.


The company has never packed under the Superior brand label, LaForest said. That will change in May, when the company plans to pack honeydews and grapes under the label, he said.


Superior-branded honeydews from Mexico will likely begin shipping in early May, with grapes following in late May, LaForest said.


Eventually, Superior South also will pack Mexican-grown vegetables under the Superior brand, LaForest said. The company ships cucumbers, peppers, hard-shell squash, zucchini and other items from south of the border eight or nine months out of the year.


LaForest stressed that with the creation of Superior South, Supe-rior Sales is not trying to go into competition with its longtime shippers, many of whom have been with the company for a decade or more.


Superior will continue to use the same shippers, he said. The differ-ence is that now it will try to leverage the strong brand presence Superior has established with Michigan-grown product with some of its Mexican imports.


Superior South was created to try to draw attention to the fact that when buyers think “Superior,” they should think more than just Michigan.


Despite the company’s track record, when customers or potential customers thought of Superior, it was the Wolverine State, not Mexico, that came to mind, LaForest said.


“So many people know Superior as a Michigan-based grower, that’s all they think of us as,” he said.


“This gives us a little different identity for what we’re doing (in Mexico.”


LaForest is joined on the No-gales sales desk by Steve Murphy and Omar Castillo, he said. While LaForest is heading up the Superior/South division, he retains his old title of manager of Superior’s grape and tree fruit programs.


Castillo lives in Nogales year-round, LaForest said. LaForest and Murphy also spend significant time there, especially during the spring and early summer.


“For the last seven or eight years, I’m always there from May 10 to July 4,” he said. “We’ll be spending more time there than we ever have.”


After the graduation of one of Murphy’s children from high school, Murphy intends to significantly increase his time in Nogales, LaForest said.


“As the business grows, that of-fice is going to grow,” he said. “The goal is to expand shipments, customers and our commodity base.”


Superior currently sources organic Mexican-grown produce for customers, but for the short-term, at least, the company doesn’t have plans to market it under the Supe-rior brand name, LaForest said.


“If we do it, it will be 1½ to 2 years away,” he said. “We want to make sure we get our other high-volume commodities done correctly.”


Superior South hopes to raise awareness for its new direction by attending upcoming industry trade shows, LaForest said. The company will attend the annual Sonora grape conference on April 15-16 in Hermosillo, Mexico.


Superior also plans to make its presence known at Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce’s annual convention in April in Las Vegas, LaForest said.


The company probably won’t have its own booth at United Fresh, LaForest said, but it does intend to host a party, dinner or other event.