November 19 02:48 PM

Produce productive for Capac business

Rooted in local farms, Pirrone's adds 18,000 sq. ft. facility for growth

July 14, 2010
CAPAC — Joe Pirrone admits that putting up an 18,000 square foot building during these trying economic times times is daunting but his reasoning is sound.

"People have to eat and the best value there is is cooking at home," says Joe, whose dad Mike started the family's produce business more than 50 years ago.

Once the company's new building is complete, Pirrone's will have more than doubled the storage space at their Bryce Road facilities. It will house a three-room cooler and a seven-bay loading dock.

Joe says the new building will make their operations more efficient.

"We were operating at 110 percent capacity. In our new building we should be able to do 85 percent," he said. In terms of trucks, Pirrone's will see their current 55 semi loads a day jump to about 75.

Expansion of their facilities will help the company be more efficient, Joe Pirrone said. photo by Maria Brown.
"And for every truck that goes out another one must come in," Joe says.

It's no surprise that the company could use some more room. In addition to the produce Pirrone's grows on their own 1,000 acres, they also market the vegetables harvested by growers on another 8,000 acres across five states and one Canadian province.

Produce enters their Capac facility and is then shipped across the country—as far west as the Rocky Mountains—to chain stores, wholesalers who service restaurants, terminal market sellers and processors.

They ship carrots, lettuce, hot peppers, cucumbers, pumpkins, summer squash, hard squash, cabbage, green beans, bell peppers, gourds, sweet corn, rhubarb, eggplants and more. The crops come from places as close as Imlay City, Almont, Yale and Armada and as far away as Illinois, Bowling Green, Ohio and Peterborough, Ontario and lots of places in between.

The farm and marketing business together employs more than 100 people.

The new storage building will be ready for what's shaping up to be a bountiful harvest. Joe says that demand is up due to severe heat in the southern states and although growers in Byron Center and Dundee have been hurt by too much rain, local crops are thriving.

"Imlay City's weather has been perfect," Joe said.

"We are seven to ten days ahead of a normal year."

Besides the weather, Joe says the produce industry has countless other variables to deal with these days.

Product safety is a major concern. Joe says the company spends tens of thousands of dollars on worker hygiene training, water sampling and third party audits. They also invest heavily in environmentally-friendly growing practices on their farm like trickle irrigation, crop trellising and the use of plastic to prevent weeds instead of using herbicides.

There's also the matter of catering to consumer's changing needs.

"These days there's less demand for cabbage and more demand for jalapenos," he said.

Joe also concedes that the market for rhubarb—the crop Mike Pirrone started his business with—has subsided since families do less baking because of their busy lifestyles.

While the industry is benefiting from the public's desire to eat fresh, locally-grown vegetables, Joe says, lots of home cooks still need help turning the produce into tasty dishes. That's why they're working with the Produce Marketing Association to get more 'point of purchase' material into grocery stores.

Not all produce can be labeled but those that carry a Pirrone sticker include gourds, pumpkins and squash. They also market Lindy's Pre-Pack Carrots from Imlay City under the Capac Chief brand.

"We can take a case of zucchini picked this morning in Imlay City and we'll deliver it to Kroger tonight. By tomorrow afternoon it will be in the store," Joe said.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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