Joseph G. Procacci, a produce industry legend known for reshaping the United States tomato market with Santa Sweets Grape tomatoes and UglyRipe heirloom tomatoes, died earlier this month. He was 90.
At the early age of eight, Procacci began peddling produce in the streets of Camden, NJ from his father’s pushcart. From those humble roots, Procacci became an industry giant, building a vertically-integrated produce grower and marketer that developed its own seeds, grows, packs, and distributes produce, and supplies roughly 10 percent of the fresh tomatoes in the United States.
As CEO and chairman of Procacci Brothers, Joe Procacci had a profound impact on shaping the current produce industry. He was a driving force in pallet standardization, grading standards, food safety, trade agreements, and he is credited with preserving the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA).
As the exclusive distributor of the authentic Santa Sweets Santa F1 variety, Procacci introduced the national U.S. consumer market to grape tomatoes in the late-nineties. In 1999, Procacci dispelled the common belief at the time that it was impossible to produce high-flavor, vine-ripened tomatoes that could be shipped to markets all over the country. After 20 years of developmental research, he introduced the UglyRipe tomato, an heirloom, beefsteak-style tomato with distinctive ribbed shoulders and meaty flesh.