Standing out from the other produce businesses was the basis for the formation of Bridges Produce, Inc., BB #:168499 seventeen years ago, in Portland, OR.
Founder and president Ben Johnson, who had worked in various aspects of the industry, recognized an opportunity to provide a service to small growers.
“I wanted to do everything that somebody else wasn’t already doing,” he says.
He saw that many grower-shippers needed help, particularly growers of seasonal produce, in building their businesses.
“They needed someone to advocate on their behalf and help navigate the challenges of marketing and distribution,” Johnson says. “Being a seasonal grower isn’t conducive to having a year-round sales staff.”
Bridges Produce will handle a variety of services from packaging to food safety, and especially marketing, allowing producers to focus on what they do best—growing produce.
“Our job is to handle all the marketing, so they don’t have to think about that piece,” he says.
Getting the word out
José Luis Obregon, president of importer and distributor IPR Fresh BB #:170086 in Nogales, AZ, acknowledges how much marketing has changed over the years, and says his company strives to keep up.
“We’re doing much more social media,” he says. “We’ve updated our website and do ads in trade magazines, but we find face-to-face interaction is most effective. We’ll pick an area (of the country), go to five or six cities, and meet with our best customers.”
Getting to know his customer base, understanding their needs, and building relationships has helped Johnson’s business grow too.
Repeat business and long-term relationships are crucial. “It’s not like being a car dealer and selling a car, then you don’t see the buyer again for five or six years.”
This is a multi-part feature on starting your own produce business adapted from the October 2019 issue of Produce Blueprints.