San Antonio-based NatureSweet Tomatoes was recognized as one of the Best Companies to Work for in Texas list and is a top employer benefitting the state's economy, workforce, and businesses.
For decades, Texas has been known as a mecca for agricultural production. The 2017 Census of Agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered a clear picture into the country's diverse agriculture industry, ranking Texas as first in the nation for the total number of farms at just over 248,000 —accounting for more than 127 million acres of agricultural land (or 74% of the state's 268,581 square miles).
In the same year, it was reported Texas agriculture contributed close to $25 billion to the national economy for products sold. Local producers are vital to the state's economy, with goods from Texas produced and exported across the nation and globally, illustrating the reach of the state's agriculture industry.
Transforming the Industry Landscape
San Antonio's NS Brands and its NatureSweet Tomatoes products line is reshaping the produce industry through sustainability, social responsibility, and a commitment to the populations it serves. While many companies tout great work cultures, NatureSweet has garnered attention as one of the Best Companies to Work for in Texas status in recent years and stands as a top employer benefiting the state's economy, workforce, and produce.
"We offer the opportunity for people who want to take extra classes to become certified and learn new skills, to be able to move up with the company," Lori Castillo, VP of Marketing at NatureSweet, said. "We have generations of folks, like dads working with daughters, or sons working alongside their moms, because it's such a great company to work for with great benefits."
While agriculture is continually evolving, a growing movement for a sustainable industry in recent decades is redefining how companies conduct operations. Sustainable agriculture, for instance, integrates goals surrounding environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity.
The result? Companies like NS Brands create an eco-friendly footprint serving as a model guide for other businesses in shared industries.
Becoming Equitably Certified
A shifting calculus paved the way for NatureSweet's introduction as an industry leader, and its EFI-certified distinction has put NS Brand's robust standards front and center.
EFI, or the Equitable Food Initiative, is a non-profit organization working toward improving the produce industries for workers, growers, and retailers. The initiative ensures proper conditions for workers, fair compensation, and the work environment is engaging so that products are responsibly grown. The certification recognizes a company as having grown produce at the highest industry standards beyond government requirements.
Initiatives like paying the workforce above minimum wage, offering workers' compensation, creating safe working conditions for its workforce, or not hiring underage workers are among the 311 EFI qualifications.
"Over the last couple of years, we became Fairtrade certified; usually, a company will take about a year to eighteen months to get qualified or certified for EFI. We did ours in less than six months because our internal practices are that stringent. So for us, our common practices are oftentimes either adopted or used as best in class, which is really a testament to what we do and how we do it."
Investing in Innovation
As stewards of innovation, the company employs the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals to ensure transparency and increase consumer satisfaction. Additionally, in 2017, NatureSweet began implementing artificial intelligence to mitigate pests and diseases in their company's greenhouses.
Through this effort, technology expects to improve the company's yields by 20% to serve the environment and consumers more efficiently.
"We are implementing new technology, like tech that can help predict yield, as an example. We know how many plants we actually put in the ground, and this technology can count and see a bit growing at a time or [assess] if the bees are pollinating the way they should. It also looks at a space that's maybe growing slower than another one and analyzes data that suggests whether the plant is getting enough sun."
"We hire analysts and engineers to study the algorithm, and we partner with universities ... so there's a lot of academics behind the numbers also because that's where a lot of the latest and greatest new ideas come from."