The clocks have sprung forward, and the change of seasons is under way. But from trees budding in January because of unseasonable temperatures in the Northeast to frozen citrus crops in the West, this winter will be remembered for delivering some unusual weather.
The weather is only one part of the story for Fresh Del Monte Produce, the fruit and vegetable company. Mohammad Abu-Ghazaleh, 65, the chief executive, spoke recently about price inflation, focusing on new markets in the Middle East and Africa and the around-the-world business trips his job requires. Following are excerpts:
Q. We had some weird weather this winter. Did your crops sustain any significant damage?
A. The weather has been weird in terms of being positive in some areas and negative in others. As far as Del Monte is concerned, we don�t have so much exposure to growing crops in California, where the freezing took place, during the winter. We grow our crops in Arizona and Texas.
We saw good weather in Central America, where it is usually more rainy. This year we found the rains to be moderate and sunshine more abundant. This was helpful to our bananas, pineapples and melons.
Q. In parts of the country in the latest harvest, crops went to waste because of a labor shortage. Do you struggle with finding enough workers?
A. This is a challenge, something that we have to work on. We have a big operation in Arizona, where we produce melons in the spring and fall. And we use a lot of labor in the fields for picking and packing. This, of course, is a situation where we have to live with the new wages that have just been passed on by Congress. And also the issue of having access to labor from Mexico. This is an issue that the whole industry is dealing with. Our prices to the consumer haven�t been raised to handle this increase in labor costs. The additional costs will have to be passed on to the consumer. We won�t be able to absorb the costs for a very long time.