Now that the company has set up a solid infrastructure in its growing areas in Baja California and in Culiacan, Mexico, San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce is looking to improve efficiencies at all levels of its operation — “from seed to customer” — said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

One way the company hopes to achieve that goal is by taking its 6-year-old retail-ready program to another level.

Through that program, tomatoes are packed at Andrew & Williamson facilities and sent directly to customers, eliminating repackers.

Although the retail-ready program removed a step or two in the handling process, “We still had to look at every box in San Diego or Nogales to ensure that the quality was right for the right customer,” Munger said.

Now the company has gone a step further with its farm-direct program.

“That’s where we really push the responsibility of putting up the right pack where it should have been all along — at farm level,” he said.

Direct to customers

Boxes for a few customers already are being packed to their specifications in growers’ packing sheds and sent directly to customers without going through the company’s distribution centers.

“The more we can push labor ... and handling to just one point of handling at the packing shed, the more efficient we’re going to be,” Munger said.

Every time a box is handled or looked at, it “adds incredible costs,” he said.

“The simpler we can make the process so only one set of people are handling it, you improve food safety, shelf life and quality, and you take out significant costs.”

In another example of efficiency, the company is crossing some of its Culiacan-grown product through McAllen, Texas, instead of Nogales.

“It puts (product) closer to our customers in the Midwest and the East and eliminates about two days of transportation,” Munger said.