Back in 2016, Mucci Farms innovated the North American greenhouse category by entering the controlled environment strawberry market with large scale production. “After a successful two-year trial and the support of a major retail partner, we partnered with two experienced Dutch growers to build the largest indoor berry farm in North America, a 36-acre project built in three 12-acre phases,” said Joe Spano, VP of Sales and Marketing at Mucci Farms.
“Right from the get-go, the demand has been overwhelming, and it wasn’t long before we knew that there was a market for more, so we decided to double that acreage.” The company decided to build a twin 36-acre facility, but instead of multiple phases it was built in one shot to accommodate the demand. Construction of the new farm was completed earlier this year, bringing Mucci Farms’ total greenhouse strawberry acreage to 72 acres (29-hectares).
All 72 acres are located in Kingsville, Ontario and growing strawberries indoors at this scale has never been done before on the North American continent. “We first started our program to fill an evident gap in the market,” said Bert Mucci, CEO at Mucci Farms. Apart from a few short summer months, consumers in cold climate regions only had access to field-grown strawberries usually grown in Florida or California. Due to their delicate nature, quality was greatly impacted by travel miles. “We saw an opportunity to innovate the berry category by growing locally in greenhouses and providing consumers in our region with high quality fruit. A benefit of growing indoors is that we can allow product to fully color up and maximize sugars prior to harvesting, ensuring the best flavor and quality of strawberries in the market with almost zero shrink.” Product that is harvested today can be on store shelves in most markets within 24-48 hours.
In addition to providing locally grown, high-flavor strawberries, greenhouses also provide a pesticide-free growing environment. “Field grown strawberries are consistently at the top of the ‘dirty dozen’ list for heavy pesticide use,” shared Mucci. “Growing indoors and with the use of our integrated pest management program, we are able to provide a safe, clean and flavourful berry.”
Always looking to innovate and satisfy market demands, the company is also expanding the berry program to include new products and packaging. “With the success and obvious demand for controlled environment berries, expanding the product line and diversifying packaging options has certainly been on our radar,” said Spano. “We have been successfully trialing blackberries and are preparing to unveil a variety of sustainable packaging solutions at PMA 2021 to reinforce our commitment to environmental responsibility.”
Harvest starts this month
Mucci Farms’ strawberry acreage has been broken down into six 12-acre blocks with 3.4 million plants. It took a month to plant with harvesting from the new range starting late August, running for nine months. “With six blocks, we can stagger crop cycles, allowing us to always be in season.” Once harvested, the berries are marketed under the Smuccies™ Sweet Strawberries brand as well as private label, and mainly make their way into Ontario, Eastern Canada, and the Midwestern region of the US.
Expansion in the US
“Demand has been tremendous right from the beginning. Our retailers can’t keep them on the shelves long enough because flavor and quality are unmatched,” mentioned Spano. While the majority of product is shipped to Canadian retailers, the company’s American partners have expressed interest in greenhouse grown strawberries. As a result, opportunities are currently being explored to build a berry facility in the US.