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Media Link: The Windsor Star

Mucci Farms is spending $12 million on top of its $24-million investment in greenhouses built just for strawberries to become the largest strawberry grower in North America under glass.

The company that mainly grows greenhouse tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers wants to grow strawberries year-round using artificial lights in the expanded acreage and is banking on freshness and not using pesticides to compete with field berries. Greenhouses tend to use native insect predators for pests.

“Mucci Farms can proudly say we are putting Kingsville, Ontario, on the map for having the largest strawberry greenhouse not only in Canada but in North America,” Joe Spano, a vice-president of sales and marketing, said before a Thursday ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Danny Mucci, the other vice-president of sales and marketing, said the 36 acres of greenhouses — when 12 acres are added next year to the 24 acres of strawberries under glass at the Road 2 East site — may end up being the largest indoor production of strawberries in one spot worldwide. 

The $12-million expansion will include artificial lights and getting a lower electricity price was key in the decision to expand, Spano said. Mucci Farms is building greenhouses in Ohio where hydro is cheaper but those greenhouses won’t grow strawberries, he said.

Joe Spano, left, vice-president of sales and marketing at Mucci Farms in Kingsville, gives remarks during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to unveil Phase 2 of the 36-acre strawberry farm expansion on Oct. 26, 2017.“We’ve come to terms with Ontario Hydro on a couple pilot projects that they’ve supplied some discounted pricing allowing us to expand our footprint here,” Spano said.

He said without the pilot project, the company likely wouldn’t have been able to expand in Kingsville. Spano didn’t divulge details of that agreement.

Mucci Farms employs about 1,200 people in Leamington and Kingsville and will add about 100 workers since 300 are needed to pick strawberries at the peak harvest times.

Mucci said the farm may grow other fruits. The berries are sold as Smuccies Sweet Strawberries. 

“We think we can (compete). We have a superior product. The quality’s going to be fantastic. If they have inclement weather outdoors — whether it’s rain or too hot of temperatures — we feel that we still have a better berry,” Mucci said.

“It is the cleanest strawberry out in the marketplace because we do not spray any pesticides.”

This aerial view shows the 36-acre strawberry farm expansion at Mucci Farms in Kingsville.

Unlike California berries that are trucked over days to grocery stores, Spano said Smuccies will be on shelves within 24 hours and the marketing in Canada and the United States will focus on freshness. It won’t hurt that Christmas, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day fall in the winter.

“Local strawberries on Valentine’s Day would be a win-win for everybody,” Spano said. 

Smuccies were sold at $4.99 and $5.99 for a 12-ounce clamshell container in local stores and Spano said they were competing with California berries in a slightly smaller one pound container at $5.

“We were selling out so the consumers are speaking volumes. They like the cleanliness. They like the sweet flavours,” Spano said. “We can compete, yes. I think actually they’re going to have a problem competing with us.”

Greenhouse strawberries have been big in Europe for more than a decade and Mucci said the European strawberry market is about 65 per cent from greenhouses.

While other local greenhouses grow strawberries, they arennot on the scale of Mucci Farms.

The Thursday announcement included a media peek at the first harvest in Phase 2 of the expansion and treats including chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne poured over strawberries.

An overview of the Phase 2 section of Mucci Farms 36-acre strawberry farm expansion

Employee O’Neil Francis picks strawberries.