BELLE GLADE, Fla. — TKM Bengard Farms LLC, one of the East Coast’s biggest fresh-cut lettuce suppliers, is increasing its presence in the fresh market.
In 2008, the south Florida grower and fresh-cut processor of a variety of lettuces was packing few cartons of fresh lettuce.
Now, however, the company that supplies processors and distributors is increasing its production of fresh and fresh-cut, said Stephen Basore, partner and food safety director.
Last year, TKM shipped 20% of its production to the fresh market with the balance to fresh-cut.
Now, the percentage of cartons going to retailers has increased to a fourth of its output.
“Both our processed and fresh have grown,” Basore said. “We haven’t lost any processed business, but our growth tends to be more toward the fresh market, though our processing business is still solid. Our business has grown quite a bit with retailers. Today, fresh has become a bigger part of our business.”
For fresh shipments, the iceberg lettuce TKM grows ships primarily fresh.
The company’s biggest volume is in iceberg and romaine but it also grows and processes red leaf, green leaf, endive, escarole and butter lettuce.
TKM is beginning to pack volumes of wrapped lettuce and last year began experimenting with romaine hearts, Basore said.
East Coast processors purchase and pack TKM’s lettuce, which they sell under their own labels. The chain stores are becoming more interested in TKM’s product now that they realize they have been selling TKM’s lettuce, he said.
Foodservice purveyors remain the next channel of growth and Basore said the company is starting to enter that segment by supplying distributors 24-count packs of iceberg and romaine.
The family’s farming history dates to the 1920s and the Basores started growing lettuce during the late 1950s.
In 1995, brothers Kevin Basore, crop production manager, Michael Basore, harvesting manager, and Toby Basore, crop management manager, founded TKM.
The other TKM partners are brothers Stephen Basore and Brian Basore, sales manager.
Tom Basore, the Basore family patriarch, died in 2007.
He was considered one of the industry’s most influential lettuce pioneers who helped establish and sustain Florida’s lettuce industry.
Tom Basore worked with his sons as a consultant and his business partner, Tom Bengard, founder of Bengard Ranch Inc., in Salinas, Calif., invested in TKM in 1997.
Brother Tom Basore Jr., works as the company’s risk manager and in the newest generation of Basores, Ethan Basore is a harvest supervisor and Nick Basore is a financial analyst.