The Mexican-grown Persian limes are rolling down the conveyor belts at ColiMex in Weslaco.
Workers are sorting and inspecting the fruit. Boxes of “Fresh Quality Limes” are stacked high on pallets near an open warehouse door, waiting for delivery. The limes at the Weslaco plant will be shipped across the country to some of the nation’s best known national and regional grocers. Food service companies are also major buyers in supplying major restaurant chains and the bar and nightclub industry.
Sales are brisk at ColiMex. The produce shipping company recently broke ground on a planned 55,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center that will stand adjacent to the Mid-Valley Airport. Both ColiMex facilities will be at the Mid-Valley Industrial Park.
Weslaco is positioning itself as a prime location for cold storage and the import/export of agricultural products. The ColiMex expansion is adding to the growth of the industrial park, and Weslaco’s role in the storage and movement of produce coming from Mexico and Latin America.
“I always tell people, ‘Why not Weslaco?'” said Erkia Anguiano, who with her husband, Antonio Guidino, owns ColiMex. “It wasn’t a question of where to go. We were going to stay here.”
Limes Go Beyond Drinks
Guidino started ColiMex 20 years ago with a location in an old warehouse by Expressway 83 in Weslaco. The move to the current 22,000-square-foot location at the industrial park came in 2011. The U.S. market for limes has grown since then. The 55,000-square-foot addition is much needed in allowing ColiMex to meet the demand.
“In retail, limes were seen as more of an impulse buy and not a staple,” Anguiano said. “What we’re seeing now is that it’s getting to the point where more consumers believe they have to buy some when they shop.”
The use of limes is diversifying beyond an essential item for drinks at bars and nightclubs, she said. Anguiano said Americans are more health conscious and are turning to limes for the high vitamin C content and antioxidants found in the fruit.
“The markets are coming back up and we’re seeing more need for our commodity,” she said. “There’s a new normal and limes are being used for many things beyond drinks.”
Adding Jobs & Hope
Anguiano is a southern California native who is a registered nurse by training.
She formerly worked in the emergency room of Knapp Medical Center in Weslaco. Helping her husband with his produce storage and shipping business was a part-time thing initially. Anguiano increasingly found she enjoyed the challenges of running a business and would decide to make it a full-time effort.
Sitting in her office in front of multiple computer screens, Anguiano tracks shipments and market trends. She also ticks off the factors that have been central to ColiMex’s growth. One is there is simply much more Mexican and Latin American produce coming through the Rio Grande Valley with the rise of the Pharr International Bridge as a foremost port of entry for those commodities.
“The Pharr bridge has emphasized the importance of produce,” she said. “Having access to major ports is really important for a business like ours.”
Add to that the planned expansion of commercial truck traffic at the Progreso International Bridge. Officials there are predicting the volume of cold storage produce going through Progreso port of entry could double in the next few years. Quick access to the Progreso bridge should only add to ColiMex’s growth in business.
Anguiano said ColiMex is preparing for the possibility. Beyond the new distribution center it will build this year, ColiMex has signed a letter-of-intent with the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation for an additional 10-acre site on FM 1015. All of this means more jobs, an aspect Anguiano especially enjoys discussing in pointing out the new ColiMex facility will add 30-to-40 new full-time jobs to its existing 50-employee workforce at its current facility.
“My goal is to keep it going and offer more jobs in the future,” she said. “You just need to keep moving forward.”