Red Sun Farms

A fully integrated seed-to-shelf greenhouse grower based in Ontario
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Dana Merk-Wynne

Headquartered in Kingsville, Ontario, Red Sun Farms, formerly JemD Farms, is the only fully integrated greenhouse vegetable grower and produce distributor in North America. Red Sun Farms not only owns its own farms, but is also able to control every step of the process from seed selection, propagation, harvest, packaging, sales, transportation and store delivery. This vertical integration enables Red Sun Farms to provide customers with fresh, safe and superior tasting greenhouse grown produce. With seven distribution centers and three state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities in the United States, Canada and Mexico, Red Sun Farms owns and operates more than 500 acres.

As one of the largest in the greenhouse industry, Red Sun Farms is leading the way in high-quality tomato varieties, sweet bell peppers, seedless cucumbers and mini eggplants, including a series of artisan produce and more in the way of greenhouse organics.

“We’re really the only totally integrated company in the industry from seed to distribution,” says Jim DiMenna, president and CEO of Red Sun Farms. “We’re celebrating 25 years in business and we’ve recently relocated our U.S. operations from Atlanta to Virginia to make way for more greenhouse production. Our distribution facility in Texas has doubled in size and our head office in Kingsville, Ontario, is currently undergoing an expansion. We’re growing and things are certainly moving in the right direction.”

Since 2010, it has been one of Red Sun Farms’ corporate goals to become a single entity. JemD and Red Sun Farms implemented a brand transition strategy to further connect with consumers on all platforms, internally and externally. “In 2014 we completed the transition with our new Red Sun Farms brand,” says DiMenna. “Our customers had already identified and have placed their buying confidence in the ‘Red Sun’ brand so this was a natural next step. Having a synonymous trade name with a recognized consumer brand name was our goal and I am pleased to see it come to fruition.”

Today Red Sun Farms has 275 acres of greenhouse production in Mexico, 233 acres in Canada and — once completed — 48 acres in Virginia. Currently there are 18 acres in production, including 12 acres of conventional produce and 6 acres of organic-grown produce. To accommodate such rapid expansion, Red Sun Farms now has more than 200 employees.

Artisan inspiration

In 2011, Red Sun Farms began identifying, locating and sourcing unique lines of tomatoes and the Artisan Series was born. “Today, not just chefs, but also consumers are demanding more specialty products and above-average flavor profiles,” says DiMenna. “We can offer more in terms of flavor and quality because there is much more control over the end result with greenhouse production over open-field production.”

A top-selling product in Red Sun Farm’s Artisan line is the Chef’s Tomato Collection, a mix of bite-sized tomatoes, including an array of different sweet, tart, tangy and savory taste profiles. Red Sun Farms’ rustic Heritage Beefsteak Tomatoes offer an heirloom appearance and a robust tomato flavor, reminiscent of a farmers market find.

The company is also growing the Cocoa Tomato, a succulent tomato variety that originated in Western Europe and is popular in France, Belgium, Germany and throughout the Mediterranean. “The flavor profile here leans more toward a savory appeal with a rich, earthy, broth-like taste,” says DiMenna. “The color of these tomatoes ranges from green to a shade of deep brown.”

On the sweet side, Red Sun Farms Scarlet Pearl tomatoes are mini grape tomatoes with a juicy, sweet flavor. “They’re great tossed in a salad or for an on-the-go snack,” says DiMenna.

DiMenna says the push for interesting varieties and not-your-average produce is coming to light in more than tomatoes. “It’s happening with cucumbers and peppers as well,” he says. “We’re doing many things we didn’t do 10 years ago and it’s very exciting for us and for the produce industry overall.”

Growing in greenhouse organics and earth-friendly packaging

Due to an increased demand in providing the shopper with an organic option, in 2014 Red Sun Farms built its first USDA-certified organic greenhouse in Virginia and has just completed 25 new USDA-certified acres of organic produce in Mexico. “We harvested our first crop in Virginia last spring, we will harvest in Mexico this fall and we are pleased to announce our first Canadian-grown organic crop will be available in spring 2016,” shares DiMenna. “We’ve committed more acreage to greenhouse organics to address the growing demand for organically grown produce in the marketplace.”

In addition to growing organics, Red Sun Farms also introduced an earth-friendly package for its organic grape tomatoes, designed to appeal to the organic shopper. In July 2015, Red Sun Farms released its organic grape tomatoes with fiber base, a new form of sustainable packaging. The fully compostable, recyclable and biodegradable base is equipped with a top seal lidding film that uses 90 percent less plastic. “The new pack style is also made from Canadian wood fiber, in support of Red Sun Farms’ North American packaging strategy — ‘on-shore’ versus off shore produced pieces,” adds DiMenna.

“Our unique business structure allows us the opportunity to innovate in packaging box shapes, sizes and materials,” says DiMenna. “We’re also working on display-ready containers and boxes and we’re hiring many team members to generate new ideas for this side of the business.”

While everything seems to be moving steadily forward for Red Sun Farms, the business isn’t immune to growing pains and the pinch of industry regulations. Challenges such as energy consumption regulations in Ontario, as well as the loss of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) Trust, are just some of the recent hurdles for Red Sun Farms.

The PACA Trust was enacted at the request of the fruit and vegetable industry to promote fair trade and business in the industry. The PACA Trust protects businesses dealing in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables by establishing and enforcing a code of fair business practices. “Losing the PACA Trust as a Canadian exporter is very concerning to us,” says DiMenna, who’s been actively involved on both Canadian-American sides of the act for a decade. “It’s very important we have this luxury in our industry. The hoops we have to go through to file a claim with PACA is quite substantial. This is a big concern for us and the industry overall.”

Other pressures include government-enacted energy initiatives that DiMenna says do not make sense for the Ontario greenhouse industry. As a member of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers Association (OGVG), Red Sun Farms is an active proponent in lobbying for rules and regulations that support greenhouse growers and the greenhouse industry overall.

“The government often buys into solar and wind energy initiatives that do not make business easier for growers,” says DiMenna. “Solar is just too expensive and relying in wind energy is too unstable for growing crops. And you can’t pay someone 60 cents a kilowatt and sell it for 8 cents; the government doesn’t understand this and it drives the energy costs in Ontario to the highest in North America.”

Industry challenges aside, there’s no doubt Red Sun Farms is growing — especially in the vertical sense. With more than 500 acres across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, Red Sun Farms continues to be a leader in seed-to-shelf, fully integrated vegetable production.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Fulger Transport Inc.
Star Choice Transport
Sunbelt Logistics