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CalMex Wholesale Growers & Shippers Applies Strict Quality Control to Suppliers, Too

California Dream
Located about 10 miles east of the Pacific Ocean at the southern end of the Santa Ana Mountains, the De Luz Canyon boasts a Mediterranean-like climate, running streams and quick freeway access to beautiful San Diego, California. While the dramatic topography creates varied micro-climates, De Luz, Fallbrook, CA offers a year-round growing climate that makes it a favored spot for commercial nurseries, groves and farms. Summertime highs of mid 80’s; and mid 60’s in the winter make it a perfect spot for Luis and Esther Cervantes to grow flora.

Principle owners of CalMex Wholesale Growers & Shippers, Inc., headquartered in Vista, California, the Cervantes also have production facilities in Watsonville, Valley Center and San Marcos, all located north of San Diego. The husband and wife team were both working in the flower industry years before they decided to break out on their own. Starting with a small facility, buying used equipment and relying on manual labor, the resourceful couple has ‘grown’ their business into one of the larger floral grower/shippers in the United States.

Big Business
Consumers nationwide purchase an estimated $30 billion of floral items/year. According to the California Cut Flower Commission, California growers account for 75% of all domestically grown cut flowers in the United States and 25% of all cut flowers. There are currently about 250 cut flower growers in California and CalMex is one of the major players. CalMex ships flora daily to wholesalers all over the United States. While they occasionally source from other local growers, 85% of the flora stock is grown themselves.
The floral industry is big business, with about a $5.5 million/per day total economic impact in terms of business activity created by cut flower growers. There are about 40,000 retail florists nationwide, plus thousands of supermarket cut flower departments and kiosks on city streets and shopping malls. The flowers have to come from somewhere, and quickly to fill such a voracious appetite.

Quality is Key
When you purchase flowers, chances are they were in the field just 24 – 48 hours ago. Consumers expect flowers to retain their freshness and bouquet and that means they have to be quickly picked, graded, bunched, and packed for shipping. CalMex has grown from a family startup to employing over 50 team members, and increasing distribution space from 7,000 sq. ft to over 25,000 sq. ft. in their Vista, CA facility alone by providing high-quality, fresh stems to its customers season after season.

On a recent visit, Esther explained that they ship ‘growers bunches’, typically a 10-stem count or in the case of sunflowers, a five-stem bunch. Depending upon variety and size, 10 to 20 bunches are packed into long telescoping corrugated boxes, tucked in with recycled newsprint and strapped with semiautomatic strappers, fitted with lids and pushed from dual conveyor lines onto a single automatic roller conveyor. The conveyor moves the cartons into a Mosca model TRP-5 to be automatically strapped for shipment. The TRP-5 is programmed to recognize the leading and trailing edges of each carton and places one strap on each end. The production line is quick and efficient with a delicate touch.

Seasonal Rush
According to Esther, they ship on average, 2,500/boxes/week, and up to 1,000 boxes/day depending on the season. January to May is considered peak season for cut flowers, and then orders turn to sunflowers and then fillers for the Christmas holidays. During this December visit, packers were securing bunches of beautiful red berry bunches, perfect for a holiday mantelpiece. As expected, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are the biggest floral event, with employee crews and family members working 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. for seven straight days. Extra product is brought in from Mexico to meet the demand. CalMex keeps their flowers and greens cool in a 38 degree storage room to further maintain freshness and moves out loads on hand trucks as needed during the packing process. The boxes are strapped and then stacked on pallets prior to being loaded into refrigerated company trucks to local markets and airports.

Shipping
As his business was growing and recognizing that time was of the essence; Luis teamed up with Novatech Packaging, an EAM-Mosca Strapping Systems Distributor in southern California to review automation options in 2009. Paul Dufresne, a floral industry specialist who provides technical services for Novatech, recommended that CalMex invest in an automatic, in-line TRP-5 model bander that featured a PLC and a dual belt driven conveyor. At the time, CalMex employees were hand processing products. Prior to installing their strapping machines, Esther mentioned they used manually applied cleats to bundle bunches at a cost of $.17 each. According to Esther, “The material savings with switching to strap is only outweighed by the time savings. The Mosca bander has been a very reliable piece of equipment and our production line runs very smoothly and at an even pace.” Almost seven years later, the Mosca machine continues to run with only a few technician calls for replacement parts and PM.

The TRP-5 strapping system still being used by CalMex was updated by Mosca with the improved TR-6 Series, which features the Standard-6-Pathway technology which the company states, ‘takes system performance to previously unattainable levels’. The TR-6 models can be used for carton closing, securing bundles and for a variety of end-use packaging applications.

The new and improved banders feature a fully enclosed strap track for best strap feed reliability, wear-free DC direct-drive technology and controls customized to meet application requirements. The TR-6 models are available with traditional Heat Seal Weld or Mosca’s proprietary Sonixs sealers. Production rates of up to 45 units per minute can be achieved depending upon track size and carton sizes.

Grower/Shippers should look at their process regularly and as their business grows, invest in new equipment as improvements in both material handling and the shipping process really impacts freshness, quality, and ultimately, profits. Perhaps the next time you sit down to a special event the flower arrangement could very well be from flowers grown in a state with strict growing standards and a year-round environment perfect for growing hundreds of varieties. Maybe even grown by Luis and Esther Cervantes of CalMex!

EAM-Mosca Corporation provides high-performance strapping system solutions to a variety of industries, including food, graphic arts, mailing, fulfillment, logistics, corrugated, wood, and other industrial or consumer goods. We combine innovative equipment with strapping materials manufactured to maximize machine performance and customer support programs that help our customers to meet their performance and productivity goals.

To learn more about any of EAM-Mosca’s other productivity enhancing strapping systems, please call us at 800-456-3420, or email us at info@eammosca.com. You can also connect with EAM-Mosca on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn via the links above.

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