Driven by Mexico’s expanding economy, ten major fruit exporters from Mexico recently toured the Philadelphia Port complex and one of the nation’s largest produce storage and packing facilities in Vineland, NJ.

The exporters also met in small groups with 15 importers from the Philadelphia region speed-dating style in an effort to find the right business match for their perishable products.

“We came here to find the right people to take care of our product. We are proud of what we produce and we need to know it will be treated well,” said Jose Garibay, a berry grower and exporter from Mexico. “I’m certain - with consolidation - we can make this work.”

The tour is the culmination of a year-long effort spearheaded by Ship Philly First, a non-profit, membership organization of private business owners who operate port-related companies in the Delaware Valley, the Mexican consulate of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Regional Port Authority and ProMexico, the economic development arm of Mexico.

Together they are working to create weekly liner service between Philadelphia and Veracruz to generate more business for both ports and to bypass crippling congestion for trucks at the border. While the proposed five-day ocean crossing is cheaper, faster, cleaner and safer than traveling the countries’ highways, a regular shipping service between the two cities has not been available for an estimated 40 years.

Ship Philly First President Larry Antonucci, president of 721 Logistics, and former President Fred Sorbello, CEO of Mullica Hill Group Companies, welcomed the visitors, along with Carlos Giralt, Mexican consul of Philadelphia, and Martin Caro, deputy trade and investment commissioner for ProMexico. Jack Murphy of Maersk and Anthony DeBari of MSC - shipping lines that have an interest in creating an ocean route between the two cities - also attended..

“Ten billion a year in bilateral trade already exists between Mexico and our region. An ocean route makes a lot of sense,” said Sorbello. whose company is the largest meat importer in the United States.

The next step, said Sorbello, is a trade mission for regional importers to Veracruz in July to solidify professional relationships.

Rusty Lucca, president of Lucca Freezer and Cold Storage, hosted approximately 80 guests to his 325,000 square-foot facility in Vineland, NJ. Visitors watched clementines from Chile and avocados from Mexico rumble down spotless assembly lines before being bagged, labeled and readied for distribution to major retailers, such as Walmart, Costco, ShopRite, Acme and Krogers.

“Exporters need to know their perishable products are taken care of, that they are placed in a clean, secure facility with state-of-the-art temperature control. They also need to know their produce will be repacked in the most attractive way. This visit is an insurance policy. I am not the only game in town, but I am representative of the quality of warehousing and value-added service that is available in this region,” said Lucca, a genial host who provided a Mexican lunch for all in his 100-seat, on-site cafeteria.

Located on 44-acres in Vineland, NJ, Lucca Freezer and Cold Storage receives more than 200,000 pallets of fruit annually from around the world.