This coming January, it will be 30 years ago that Janice Honigberg started Sun Belle Inc. In this interview, Janice elaborates on how she started the company almost three decades ago, what changed and what remained the same over the years.
“I fell in love with Mexico when I was ten years old and in college, I majored in Latin American studies and philosophy,” said Honigberg. “I knew I wanted to be involved in international trade or do something with Latin America. When I went to business school, I developed a passion for agribusiness and agricultural trade,” she adds.
“After graduation, I worked in global commodity trade in NYC for five years. Ultimately, I saw an opportunity in fruits and vegetables, particularly from Latin America. I identified the increasing interest in specialty and counter-seasonal produce, and also felt there was a gap in information from marketers to growers which I could help close. ”Berries are sweet spot
“I moved from NYC to Washington, DC and started the company by myself, operating out of a spare room.” Honigberg initially imported raspberries from Chile as well as peppers from the Netherlands and by summer was working with a blackberry grower in Virginia. “I fell in love with blackberries then and still today, this is a signature product,” said Honigberg. In 2002, Honigberg and Chilean berry expert and grower Julio Giddings started a new berry business, with the establishment of a venture in Chile (Sun Belle Berries S.A.) as well as a venture in Mexico (Sun Belle Mexico S.A. de C.V.). Sun Belle Inc. also works with U.S. and Canadian suppliers as well as growers in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Guatemala, and supplies berries year-round. “We are very well known for the work we’ve done with berries,” shares Honigberg.Global berry player
Over the years, Sun Belle has become a large international distributor of berries and is still growing. The company’s products are not only sold in the US and Canada, but in Mexico as well as throughout Europe, parts of Asia and the Middle East. In addition to raspberries, blackberries and blueberries --organic as well as conventional--, Sun Belle also markets red currants into the US, Europe and Asia. Biodynamic blueberries and cranberries are important berries for Sun Belle. The biodynamic cranberries are sourced in Wisconsin. “Last year, our grower became certified Biodynamic. Our facilities were certified as well, given that we are handlers of the product,” said Honigberg. Europe is an important market for Sun Belle’s conventional cranberry program.
“One of the biggest changes I made since founding Sun Belle was to enter the warehouse business. Initially, I thought it was best to bring product directly from the farmer to the retailer, but that didn’t always work well in reality. That’s why, very early on, I established warehouses, and over the years, the company has become good warehouse operators. We have our own trucks and work very carefully with the product.” This allows the company to distribute all over North America from its four locations, in Schiller Park, IL, Jessup, MD, Miami and Los Angeles. “Our concept is to bring product to our customers from warehouses close-by in major markets,” said Honigberg.
During the past 30 years, Sun Belle’s mission has remained the same, which is to work with excellent growers and deliver the finest quality product as directly as possible to retailers. She concludes, “I am proud that we have been able to help our customers grow their businesses and please consumers with the highest quality products and flavorful new varieties, while helping our growers succeed.”06/18/2015 Fresh Plaza