Coppola Farms Inc.
Coppola Farms Inc. is a grower and shipper of top-quality greenhouse-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in Kingsville, Ontario. The agricultural operation custom packs and ships these products locally and into the United States. Coppola Farms was founded by owners Tony Coppola Sr. and his cousin, Tony Coppola Jr., along with their brothers, Joe Coppola and Frank Coppola in 2000. Family ties and direct owner involvement have played an integral role in Coppola Farms’ development since inception.
The company’s roots trace to Antonino Coppola and his wife, Antonina and their children, Andrea and Alfonso, who originally moved to Canada from Sicily with the vision of a better life for their family. Andrea and Alfonso purchased farmland in the Kingsville area, which was eventually passed along to the third generation.
Since inception, Coppola Farms has grown substantially from a few acres to more than 15. Today, the company employs approximately 52 people, many of which are family members or neighbors.
“We concentrate on being completely family run,” says Tony Coppola Sr. “This is a big attribute about us that our customers really like. From growing to packing to shipping, a family member is involved in all of that. Whether it’s me or my brother or my cousins, there will always be a family member involved in the business because we have our heart and soul in it. We pay close attention to product quality because anything we ship out has our family name on it.”
With quality and food safety at the forefront of its mission, Coppola Farms is a GS1 licensed grower, adhering to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) regulations. “We also have our own traceability program that is active and in place,” says Tony.
Business has been steadily growing for Coppola Farms despite market challenges such as labor and energy costs. In 2009, the company had the opportunity to add 6 acres to the operation by purchasing an existing greenhouse farm. “We took over this acreage in 2009 and in the last year we’ve added another 5 acres of high-tech greenhouse space onto our original farm,” shares Tony. “As part of this expansion, we’ve also added a state-of-the-art cooling and packing facility.”
Coppola Farms has found more opportunity with other area greenhouse growers. “We’ve gone from 4 acres when we started out to now 15,” says Tony. “Recently, we teamed up with another grower down the road to do an additional 20 acres of mini and seedless cucumbers. We wanted to team up with someone to add more products, but the packaging and marketing is still done here under our roof. We just wanted to offer more options to our customers.”
But Coppola Farms’ true niche is beefsteak and cluster tomatoes. “We specialize in cluster [on the vine] tomatoes and hearty beefsteaks,” says Tony. “We’ve ventured into cucumbers and peppers, but by only focusing on a few niche items — it allows us know that we’re doing the best job possible.”
Growing greener and smarter
Coppola Farms has made a conscious effort to make its operation more environmentally friendly. “We reduce, reuse and recycle any product we can,” says Tony. “Our greenhouse complex operates with an integrated pest management system, which means we attack insects with other insects, instead of using harmful pesticides that can contaminate groundwater.”
Coppola Farms has also implemented a water recycling and filtration system. “This gives us the ability to conserve and recycle more than 50 percent of our water compared to field-grown crops,” compares Tony. “With this system in place, we conserve water and sterilize all bacteria or chemicals that could run the risk of ending up in waterways. We’ve also gone to a hot water heating system that cuts back on natural gas.”
“Another means of conserving energy is using special energy conservation curtains in our greenhouses,” continues Tony. “These curtains close at night and trap the heat in the greenhouse, which cuts down on hydro and gas bills.”
Even with more ways to save energy, Tony says Coppola Farms faces many challenges in an increasingly global produce market. “This industry has changed a lot in the last 10 years,” he says. “It’s now more of a global market because there’s produce on the shelves from all over the world — Mexico to the Dominican Republic, Spain, Holland and the U.S. It’s tough for us to compete with global producers because our platform in Canada is more expensive.”
The costs are going up and the competition isn’t going anywhere, says Tony. “Hydro, gas and labor — all of these costs have come up year over year to the point where it’s making it difficult for us to compete with foreign companies with cheaper labor and operating costs,” he says. “We’re still capable of expanding but this is slowing us down a bit.”
This is one reason industry connections are so important to Coppola Farms and other Ontario growers. The company is a member of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG), a not-for-profit organization representing 230 greenhouse growers in Ontario. The organization lobbies and conducts research on behalf of growers, helping to ensure the health of the industry.
Tony still remains optimistic despite business constraints. “We’re working more on recyclable packaging and using more biodegradable materials,” he says. “I see future promise in the organics business and I think there will be another expansion in the works for us in the next three to four years.”
With larger names entering the greenhouse business on a worldwide scale, Coppola Farms Inc. sticks to what it knows best: top-quality produce it can be proud to put the family name on.