Heading up the CPMA
By Dave Harrison
Jim DiMenna has certainly come a long way in the produce industry.
Jim DiMenna has certainly come a long way in the produce industry.
The affable boss of one of North America’s largest greenhouse produce companies began selling radishes and green onions as a 10-year-old in the mid-1960s. He sold door to door after school and on Saturdays, with the vegetables carted in his little red wagon.
Fast forward to today, and DiMenna, president of Jem-D International, will oversee sales of about 15 million boxes of hydroponically grown vegetables this year.
Jem-D International is headquartered in Leamington. It has other facilities in Texas, Quebec, Michigan, Georgia and Mexico. It markets for over 190 acres of production in Ontario (Golden Sun) and 230 acres in Mexico (Red Sun).
The company grew by about 10 per cent this year.
“I never imagined building a company of this size,” said DiMenna. “It’s a long way from that little red wagon.”
INDUCTED EARLIER THIS YEAR AS NEW CPMA CHAIRPERSON
■ He is very well known in the North American produce industry, and was inducted as chairperson of Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) at its annual convention and trade show in Calgary earlier this spring. He has served on the board since 1995.
He also serves on the Produce Traceability Initiative Leadership Council, has been involved with the Quebec and Ontario produce marketing associations for many years, and is also a member of the United Fresh Produce Association.
For his years of industry service and business success, DiMenna was named Canadian Produce Person of the Year at the 2011 CPMA convention in Montreal.
A LONG CAREER IN THE PRODUCE INDUSTRY
■ As the 10-year-old entrepreneur, DiMenna received 10 to15 cents from the farmer for each wagon-full of produce he sold. He later worked each summer as a farm labourer, before dropping out of school at age 16. “It was always a challenge keeping me in school,” he recalls with a chuckle. (He subsequently completed his education during the winter months at nearby St. Clair College.)
At age 16, he began delivering fertilizer to growers. “I thought this was a great career to be able to drive a truck each day.”
He soon got a job with Sun Parlour Co-operative, working his way up to a position in the sales department.
He set off on his own in January 1990 when he opened J-D Marketing to specialize in greenhouse vegetable sales. “I worked with the best growers and handled only the finest quality. It’s the same philosophy we have today with the business, and it’s the key to our success.”
JEM-D INTERNATIONAL ESTABLISHED IN 2001
■ In 2001, he began a joint venture with Jamie Mastronardi of Golden Jem Farms to establish Jem-D International. Mastronardi is company vice-president.
|Jim DiMenna is the first greenhouse sector representative to serve as CPMA chairperson.
In 2008, they were approached by the owners of a high-tech greenhouse company in Mexico, Group Agricola El Rosal, which wanted to buy into Jem-D.
“We share the same vision of how to do things,” says DiMenna. “They liked the way we do business, and they wanted to be able to distribute across North America.”
His family had a small greenhouse operation in Leamington in the 1950s and 1960s. “In those days, a half-acre of greenhouses was a good size.”
It was common in the early days for families and friends to get together for “work bees” to put up a new greenhouse in the fall.
The gutters, as he recalls, were about five feet tall “and had pipes hanging down you were forever ducking away from. Today, we have gutters up to 22 feet high or taller.”
Crops used to be grown in the ground, and the soil was turned by hand. Watering was done with a hose.
“It’s all changed so much today, with soilless media, computerized controls and advanced environmental management systems.”
Today, there are well over 2,000 acres of greenhouse vegetables grown in the province.
REWARDING INVOLVEMENT OVER THE YEARS WITH CPMA
■ His involvement with the CPMA has been especially rewarding. It’s a great learning and networking opportunity. “Everything I’ve learned through CPMA over the years has been brought back and put into practice here.”
During his term as CPMA chairperson, he hopes to continue to build on relationships with affiliate associations in both Canada and the U.S.
The industry has to continue to promote consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. “The benefit to consumers is improved health,” says DiMenna. “It’s an easy message to sell.”
And it’s being heard. Consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables continues to grow.
“People are more conscious of their health and what they’re eating, so they’re looking to more fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Greenhouse products are getting their share of attention. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in the greenhouse category. We’re producing more and finding new markets.”
He’s also excited about his involvement with the Produce Traceability Initiative, a program that began in the U.S. The goal is to be able to immediately trace produce throughout the supply chain. That way, if there ever were food safety concerns, a recall could be implemented right away. That’s great reassurance for consumers.
DiMenna is one of two Canadian representatives on PTI.
The CPMA and the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers association have long been North American leaders in food safety initiatives, he notes.
CONSUMERS ARE LOYAL TO THE GREENHOUSE BRAND
■ Certification would be a big boost for greenhouse-grown vegetables. At present, a lot of low-tech shade houses are marketing their produce as being greenhouse-grown, “but of course they’re not,” DiMenna explains. “They don’t have the same quality or shelf life.” It’s confusing to consumers.
|DiMenna’s company, Jem-D International, expects to market some 15 million cartons of greenhouse produce this year.
Consumers are drawn to new specialty products, such as cocktail tomatoes, mini cucumbers, different colours of peppers, and the various varieties of eggplant.
“It speaks to the fact that they like what’s grown in greenhouses.”
Jem-D International has recently expanded its product line with its Artisan series. The name is catchy and an obvious choice. “We see our growers as craftsmen, and know that they have a lot of passion for what they do. We thought that Artisan reflected that.”
DiMenna’s dedication to his company and his involvement with associations keeps him on the road quite a bit. Last year, he spent about 100 days at home. He unwinds with golf and by collecting fine wines.
He values the support of his family – his wife Barbara, his daughter Liz, and his stepson Shawn. He also has two grandchildren who keep him busy.
OFFERING SUPPORT TO CHILDREN’S HOSPITALS
■ He recently established the Jim DiMenna Foundation to help support children’s hospitals.
“I’ve seen the good work they do.” It’s his way of giving back. “Everyone has a trigger, something that pulls on their emotions.”
His managerial style at work? “I’m a pretty passive guy,” he says, “I’m not a yeller or screamer. I just like to get things done and deal with each problem as it comes.”
His employees share his passion. “That’s something we look for when hiring. We’re all passionate about wanting to be leaders in the industry.”
Admired by colleagues
DiMenna’s colleagues were quick to offer congratulations when he was named Canadian Produce Person of the Year last year.
- “Jim leads his team by example.”
- “Jim is a true gentleman in every sense of the word.”
- “Jim has an uncanny ability to put you at ease. If Jim says he’ll take care of it, rest assured, it’s taken care of. Even when the pressure’s on and the market conditions and outlook couldn’t appear any worse, Jim rises to the occasion and calmly navigates through the toughest challenges.”