Quality is derived from a genuine, committed and resourceful approach to ensure the production and delivery of the very best. This is the long-held philosophy to which the Foppiano family adheres as owners and operators of Morada Produce, established in 1998 in the district of Morada in northern California’s San Joaquin County.
The Foppiano farming heritage extends back to the time of the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. It was owner, Henry J. (Skip) Foppiano III’s great-grandparents who moved into the region from Italy during the 1800s, purchased land, and planted their first orchard. Their farming expertise and experience enabled the family to secure the Morada brand to this day.
The Foppiano family began growing onions and green peppers in the 1980s, and as one of the region’s largest growers, packers, and shippers – both nationally and internationally – is now also a huge producer of premier sweet cherries and walnuts through sister firm Morada Nut Company. One hundred percent of the company’s onions and bell peppers are grown on its own land explains Scott Brown, Morada’s production manager. “We pack about 1.2 million fifty-pound sacks a year,” he says, referring to onion production specifically.
He notes that both the onion and bell pepper commodities remain large in volume but are often overshadowed by the cherry and walnut production which, “are much more intensive processes,” requiring more labor and sophisticated equipment. “We would represent fifty percent of our production as the cherries and the walnuts,” adding that walnut production, “is our fastest growing.”
Expanding into cherry and walnut production made perfect sense to Morada because of the location’s ideal climate. “We’re in a wonderful district for cherry and walnut production specifically,” says Scott. “One of the best in the world.”
The company is located directly east of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay, and there is a large inland port in Stockton. “We get a very Mediterranean climate – warm afternoons and cool evenings. We also get a breeze through this area that does a great job of cooling down into the evenings … We get not only good production in this district, but we get superior quality. We think we have the best tasting cherries in the world,” says Scott.
“Our walnuts just come off at the most high quality. It’s exactly what the international market wants. It’s exactly what the domestic market wants,” he continues. “It’s a testament to the perfect growing conditions that we’re able to achieve.”
Stockton-headquartered Morada Produce believes in forging strong committed partnerships with other growers as well as customers, suppliers, and equipment manufacturers. These partnerships are built on a foundation of trust, respect, and open communication and are seen as complementary as everyone’s goals are realized. “You know that you are going to be respected, taken care of, and most importantly, you are going to get high quality product,” asserts Scott. “It’s something that we hold as a cornerstone of our business.”
He explains that one of the challenges for production is that products are seasonal. Using cherries as an example, he relates that, during the harvesting season, “We’re packing seven days a week for fifty days. And those days get very long. It’s not uncommon for us to be here fifteen hours a day.”
When working with partners, the company receives both empathy and assistance and numerous buyers across the globe, “have a lot of respect for the way that we’re providing them the goods that they need to do business. That’s what’s important. We need to create winners on all sides of these relationships.” Morada Produce is as transparent as possible which has enabled the company, “to be extremely successful in getting our premium products to markets around the world.”
Serving as a grower, packer, and shipper makes Morada, “a great ally to our outside growers when it comes to cherries and walnuts,” says Scott. With its own acreage serving it well, the company works, “on different trials to more fine-tune how to grow this product at the peak quality. But it’s also in a sustainable manner. We can be a great reference and resource to our growers in that respect. Our field representatives are very good about projecting that information to our grower base.”
Customers of Morada have faith in the product, whatever it may be, and know that the products are meeting some rigorous consumer demands. These customers are the experts, know their markets, and relay information to Morada to ensure the company is meeting certain criteria.
“So we set our bar very high,” says Scott. “We’re very satisfied with the results that we’ve seen through those relationships … When it’s all said and done, it’s the bounty from the harvest. It’s what is in the box that is important. If you’re not putting a premium product in the box, you’re not going to stand up to your end of the bargain. You’re not going to be able to provide your customers with what they expected.”
Each stage of the production cycle has evolved, and the introduction of new technologies has been a substantial component of such evolution. Scott explains that the challenge is in keeping abreast of the latest technologies and, “I think that’s one area that we really do shine.”
The latest developments in product sorting such as laser and camera sorters in the walnut department or the new optical sorters in the cherry department assist with this. “You need people that are not just committed to your quality control program, committed to the brand and the product that we’re packing, but they also need to be committed to the development program.”
This all requires an open mind and great communication with equipment technicians, but ultimately it is about, “staying on top of our research and development and making sure we’re going anywhere in the world necessary to learn about the next advancements on how we can put more value in the box.”
Scott says there are those who believe that Morada’s technologies, “are decreasing our labor footprint, and there’s some of that component as well. We want to be lean production. We need to be able to remove some of the hand labor out of what we’re doing. But the primary benefit, or what we believe is the superior benefit of these sorting technologies, is the quality of the product that makes it into the box.”
As an example, Scott refers to the company’s subcutaneous cherry sorting techniques which discover under-skin bruising, invisible to the naked eye, and its walnut sorting, “with sensitive laser technologies,” that can selectively isolate small shell fragments embedded in the kernel, an impossible task with hand sorting. The use and optimization of such technology is, “how we keep our competitive advantage.” This is complemented by its strong research and development program, informed team, and keeping abreast of the latest developments. The company also believes in, “continuous training, which is very important.”
In any food production industry, safety and hygiene is of the utmost importance, and food safety at Morada Produce, “is second nature here,” says Scott. “We look at it as not a burden. It’s a responsibility to the consumer. We take it very seriously. We continually score very highly on our food safety audits. It’s that trust between the packer and consumer that we’ve done everything necessary to make sure that you can feed that product to your families, and it’s going to be a safe, nutritious product.”
Morada Produce’s cherry packing process occurs during the months of April, May, and June and is, “very water intensive,” says Scott. Water is used for rinsing and cooling, and water flumes also convey the cherries around the facility. “It’s a very gentle way to handle cherries [and] it’s a very efficient and effective way to cool the cherries.”
Whenever water has to be replaced due to an accumulation of orchard dust or decayed fruit, it is dumped into a wastewater discharge pond, “which is sampled regularly by a lab to determine that the water is free of contaminants or any chemicals. Once we get the green light, we pump that water into our walnut orchards. So we are land-applying our wastewater in a way that’s kind of perfect.”
Solar panels over its parking area offer, “shaded parking for our employees, but we’re also generating a lot of solar power as well. It’s definitely something that we’re planning on expanding. It’s really been a good conversation starter. We like talking about our sustainability. We like talking about our commitment to the environment.”
Other sustainability initiatives include tightly controlled irrigation management and integrated pest management programs that, “are using an array of soft chemicals rather than resorting directly to stronger more restricted materials,” says Scott. “I feel like we may have been ahead of the curve in that realm. But it has become the modern farming economy. It’s expected … We’re not expecting to have an endpoint for our sustainability initiatives … We need to be investigating new and more creative avenues. We need to be listening to the folks that we’re working with as employees, vendors [and] retailers. They’re going to be guiding us.”
The vision for Morada Produce moving forward is simple: a continued focus on quality, “which is the backbone of this company,” concludes Scott.