APPETITE FOR GROWTH

Mexico 2016 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Alejandro Sahagún and Jesús Valdés Aguirre, Director Generals of Mainland Farms, on supporting the local economy, driving exports, and overcoming cultural barriers.

Alejandro Sahagún
BIOGRAPHY
Alejandro Sahagún holds an IMBA from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina and a degree in agricultural engineering from ITESM and Universidad Católica de Chile. He has nearly eight years of experience in the development of supply chains for fruits and vegetables through a series of management positions in different multinational companies, both in Mexico and the US. He created Mainland Farms in 2011 with his friend Jesús Valdés.
Jesús Valdés Aguirre
BIOGRAPHY
Jesús Valdés Aguirre studied industrial engineering at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) and has a master’s degree from the University of Manchester. He has worked for 12 years in the agro-industrial field, focusing on productive processes for both natural and processed fruits and vegetables. He created Mainland Farms in 2011 with his friend Alejandro Sahagún.

What role does Mainland Farms play in the economy of Michoacán?

Alejandro Sahagún Mainland Farms and every other agricultural enterprise is a centerpiece of the economy in the state of Michoacán. In contrast to other states that have automotive or aerospace industries, there is no other relative economic activity in the areas we operate; this is the reason that makes Mainland Farms so relevant and every other agricultural industry with a presence in the area. As Mainland Farms, we now have the second largest strawberry export program in Mexico. We grant market access to many farmers at a higher level than they could previously attain. Among most of our competitors, we are always the first company to start a season and the last to end it.

Jesús Valdés Aguirre We are a dynamic company and are always discussing how to improve the efficiency of our operation and how to make a better deal for our growers. In the end, the money that we generate through our sales stays here in Michoacán and reaches thousands of field-working families through our more than 400 growers.

What are the main destinations for your exports?

AS The US and Canada make up 100% of our business, and we serve every major retail chain in both countries. We try to be the most efficient link between the fields in Mexico and the final consumer in North America in order to maximize both the freshness from our products and the profits for our producers in the region. When we first started, things were different, as most global companies only came here to take advantage of the production during wintertime and then leave. However, we wanted to develop a company for the mainland growers of Mexico, to work closely to their needs, and to provide them with sufficient resources to widen their market. We provide them with technical support; we assist them with all their employee food safety training and good agricultural practices required certifications and we also provide financing.

What have been the biggest challenges encountered through this model?

AS There is a huge cultural barrier to efficiency and innovation oriented to productivity, quality, and food safety, as every grower is different, and we interact with growers of different crops throughout the different regions of Michoacán. However, we treat large-scale and small-scale growers in the same manner and provide them with equal opportunities, but also have the same expectations from each of them, and we push them all in equal terms. Major corporations did not tend to do so, as they usually prioritized their larger-scale producers. As we were entirely new for the growers when we started, credibility was a big challenge for us as well. We had to work hard to earn the trust of farmers and customers, gain access to the markets that would pay a better price than wholesale markets alone, and carve out our own space in a market dominated by large multinationals.

What are the complications you see due to the cultural differences between Mexico and the US?

JVA This was much more of a challenge in the beginning, but after working with these companies, they now understand the Mexican supply and the cultural barrier is no longer an issue. They understand how Mexican growers think and what they expect from us as partners.

AS It has not been an easy process, but the fact that we handle the Mexican side while our partners handle the American side makes it easier. Also, our own background has made things simpler for us and for both sides to work with each other as both Jesús and I have studied and lived abroad in the past.