Interview: Ricardo Ruelas Torres, VitaNova Fresh Produce

Ricardo Ruelas Torres, from Juan Jose Rios, Guasave, Sinaloa; graduated in Business Administration from the Universidad de Occidente, is at the forefront of Vitanova Fresh Produce, one of the leading companies of the North of  Sinaloa.

With extensive experience in the sector, today Ricardo Ruelas has a vision oriented to excellence and commited to society.


1.Could you tell us a bit about your beginnings in agriculture?

Shortly after graduating from college, I joined an agricultural group in northern Sinaloa which was very important and with which I worked 11 years, during that time I was able to learn much from the agricultural sector. Following this I worked in Nogales, Arizona, along the lines of agriculture but more focused on the distribution. When I was in Nogales the company where I currently work, Vitanova Fresh, invited me to collaborate on this project and I have 8 years been part of the team.


2. What is Vitanova Fresh Produce?

Vitanova Fresh Produce is a Mexican company that is part of a multinational group that has presence in United States.

We currently provide, permanently, employ to 100 people and when it’s harvest season we employ around 2,000 workers, only from this community because we do not have shelters. This makes us one of the largest sources of work in the area; the economic benefit that we provide to the region is very important and we are proud to be part of this.


3. How do you appreciate the evolution of agriculture, specifically in northern Sinaloa?

In the early  90’s to this days, in the case of the north, companies that planted large areas of land have been declining both in number and acreage; This, among other things, as a result of new technologies such as drip irrigation, greenhouses, new seed varieties, etc. This has enabled even smaller area sown, you can even get a larger number of packages.

Moreover, many others have failed to adapt to changes. Perhaps in other regions of the state, large companies have managed to stay competitive, but only those who have been able to meet the standards demanded by the market.


4. What is Sinaloa’s forecast for horticulture for next season?

One year is never like another. Fortunately the system of dams at Sinaloa is at these days to 72%, for July is a favorable outlook and somehow we have secured one of the most important factors in the equation. As for the issue of the economy, the dollar situation is beneficial for farmers who export, like in our case, the total production.

In Vitanova particularly we work to succeed every season waiting the most adverse market conditions. You prepare to control what is possible, with efficient processes, reducing costs, getting the best performance, etc .; however, a very important factor and one you cannot control is the weather and this is one of the biggest unknowns that determines the success or otherwise of a cycle.


5. How the company is preparing for the 2015-2016 season?

Actually we started to plan the next season even before the end of the current. From questions such as: how to manage your seed stages, what we will do, what the budget will be, etc.

Moreover, we try to keep current in technology. We have always had technology, especially in the area of ​​packaging. This year we will be introducing a new packaging machine of clamshell in tomato, it would be the third we own, that packs and weighs up to 12 trays at a time. With this, we will have the ability to pack a trailer in an hour. This sounds easy, but it really is an impressive achievement, and is part of what has to be done: see what’s new in the market with the intention to be more efficient and reduce costs.


6. What determines the success of a agricultural business today?

Undoubtedly the work hunches, as it was practiced years ago, are no longer a choice.

You have to make analysis and produce not only because the neighbor did it. We have to study the market conditions, technical and human resources that we have, infrastructure, etc .; that’s the only way to survive the competition.


7. What do you think is the role of certification in the market preference?

I can assure you, speaking by Vitanova, that if we did not possess the certifications that we do, quite simply we weren’t working.

Most of our production is pretreated, even before sowing we are already negotiating contracts with the different retail chains and certifications are prerequisites that our customers ask us without any doubt.

During the season we receive audits by the Servicio Nacional de Sanidad, Inocuidad y Calidad Agroalimentaria (SENASICA), Primus GSF and now we have joined Eleven Rivers; however, during the year we received also the visit of our clients and these are the most important audits for us.

With the new regulations, as FSMA, distributors are no longer willing to work with a producer who does not meet these standards. Vitanova Fresh has been practicing this for years, so certification schemes do not scare us, but I think many companies that only work to pass audits still exist, they get the certificate and continue working incorrectly.

The business has been reduced to those companies capable of producing and at the same time comply with the certifications requested by the market. There are farmers with many years of experience who have survived because of their ability to adapt to changes. The competition has been concentrating on specialized companies and this is all part of an evolution that has resulted from the famous ‘globalization’.


8. What do you like the most about agriculture?

Even if it has become a purely commercial purpose, I like to think that we work to feed people.

I also like to know that as a company we can be a catalyst for development for many families in the community in which we perform. I spoke about the of 2,000 people that work during the harvest season, but also a know that we have an impact on the economy of many others like transporters, small commerce, etc. I love knowing that I am part of something so important.

9. Anything else you want to add?

Personally, I believe that the agricultural  sector could be more united, not as today when everyone if someone has a problem he works on his own, when we could make a common front so greater benefit occurs.

I think farmers usually do not visit agricultural organisms because of distrust or apathy, or many they do not want to other people know that they are going through a problem, when the problem you have you neighbor probably does too. I would like to have the strength or the support of the union to face the most common problems.

On the other hand, I noticed that the Eleven Rivers Program has done significant work; I know it’s not easy to work with producers, it requires a lot of persistence and time and hopefully in the future a greater number of companies joined this project.