Seasons Fruits and Veggies Aims to Bring Colombian Produce to U.S.Apr 25, 2023 12:42PM ● By David Caraviello
When Sergio Pupo moved to Charleston from the South American nation of Colombia, he noticed that he didn’t see much fresh produce from his homeland. So the former bar and restaurant owner formed an importing company with the aim of bringing Colombian fruits and vegetables to the southern United States — beginning with limes and avocados.
The result is Seasons Fruits and Veggies, a startup based in Charleston that has entered the $30K PowerUp competition hosted by Integrated Media Publishing and Erik Weir. Funded currently by Pupo’s savings and profits from another exporting company he formed in Colombia with his brother-in-law, Seasons has a goal of providing grocery stores and restaurants around the Southeast with a variety of Colombian fruits and vegetables beginning with limes and avocados, two of the most popular produce items in the American market.
“I’m definitely convinced after studying the market that Colombian fruits are top quality,” Pupo said. “Additionally, it’s the only country that harvests limes the whole year, and harvests avocados in two seasons of the year. Other countries only harvest avocados once a year. It’s definitely an advantage, given the high demand for this fruit in the U.S. and the lack of supply the country faces during some months of the year.”
Pupo relocated from his native Barranquilla, Colombia, to Charleston after his wife accepted a job based in the Holy City. After arriving in South Carolina, he continued to work with the produce exporting firm he had formed with his brother-in-law back home. But he also noticed the shortage of largely Mexican-grown limes and avocados in the southern U.S. at certain times of year, and believed his Colombian connections could help fill what he believed was a hole in the American produce market.
Over $2 million in projected annual income
Seasons Fruits and Veggies was formed in February through a partnership between Pupo and Odacir Sarmiento Tapias, who oversees shipping and processing on the Colombian end of the business. Although Pupo has imported some produce through his Colombian-based enterprise, he is seeking funding that will allow Seasons Fruits and Veggies to begin importing Colombian produce to the southeastern U.S .— particularly given that spring is high season for limes in Colombia.
“I’m definitely looking for funding in order to fulfill orders that are coming from previous clients who now prefer dealing directly with the company here in the U.S., and some others that have been referred to us,” Pupo said. “Additionally, I also need funds to grow and be able to give more job opportunities to people in the logistics and distribution of produce. I know It’s a business involving high investment and detailed organization, and it has been even more difficult for us to get funding having Hispanic backgrounds.”
Pupo said Colombian limes and avocados are certified to enter the U.S., and that Seasons Fruits and Veggies has made connections with third-party companies for the managing of port access and distribution. Seasons produce is cultivated in the town of Nariño, Colombia, travels from the Port of Barranquilla to the Port of Miami, and can reach markets in the southern U.S. in three to five days. The company intends to initially target the Carolinas and Georgia, and its business plan projects an annual income of $2.026 million.
“I’m really confident,” he said of that income figure, “as I already have some customers in the U.S. who have successfully received products from Colombia since 2021. They want to continue with a long-term business relationship now that they’ve been informed that we have formed the company here in America. Additionally, I only bring in a container with my Colombian partner if a minimum of 50 percent of the order has been paid before leaving port, and prices are fixed and not variable. So each order is priced a week before processing the shipment, ensuring profits and stability.”
Limes, avocados, mangoes and more
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the vast majority of imported fresh fruit comes to the United States from Mexico, followed by Chile, Peru, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In terms of vegetables, Mexico and Canada far outdistance any other nation. In both categories, Colombia is grouped into the rest of the world — although Colombia is the U.S.’s fourth-largest importer of plantains by dollar amount, the USDA reported.
Pupo believes Colombia’s longer growing season can provide American markets with not only fresh avocados and limes for more of the year, but also mangoes, yams, golden berries, and blueberries, in addition to frozen fruit pulps — all of which Seasons Fruits and Veggies eventually plans to import to the southeastern U.S. And after decades of conflict between the government, drug cartels, and revolutionary groups, “a lot of Colombian farmers made the decision to grow fruits and vegetables instead of coca leaf,” Pupo added, “so we decided to support them.”
The top finisher in the $30K Power Up competition will win $15,000, while second place earns $10,000 and third place $5,000. Pupo said such a cash infusion would help Seasons Fruits and Veggies grow faster by allowing it to invest not only in more produce, but also warehouses and other logistical needs. And ultimately, “I want more people in South Carolina to learn about the company, and convince them it’s possible for Hispanic people in the U.S. to dream big,” he added. “If I can also inspire others while competing, I feel satisfied.”