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Missouri distributor plans big USDA food box expansion

Proffer Wholesale Produce, Inc., BB #:105572 Park Hills, MO, moved from packing about 30,000 boxes of fresh produce a week in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program to more than 100,000 30-pound combo food boxes in September.

Bob Proffer, CEO, said his company will bid for even more now that USDA confirmed it will budget $500 million for round four of the program, running from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31.

“Every phase has been a process of learning things,” he said Oct. 27. “I think it’s a great program that I’d like to see keep going for a long time. It’s getting better.”

Proffer said the first few weeks of sourcing packaged meat and dairy for the boxes had a learning curve, as the produce company didn’t have contacts in those industries.

“We changed some on meat and dairy suppliers,” he said. “I learned very fast and found some with good volume for our orders.”

He said meat and dairy require orders 1-2 weeks out, so it takes more planning than fresh produce.

“My knowledge keeps growing each week, and that helps drive the cost down,” he said, adding that he knows USDA also keeps learning how to improve the program.

As for the fresh produce his company packs, he said the combo boxes all get bags of onions, potatoes, apples and oranges.

And then Proffer Produce changes the rest of the box each week depending on what’s in season and what farmers need help finding a market.

“We help farmers locally and across the country,” he said.

Recently his company has been packing local tomatoes, peppers and squash in the boxes.

“We pack a heavy pack, often 35-36 pound,” he said, higher than the required 30-pound designation, and all the extra volume is fresh fruits and vegetables.

Proffer said the company delivers to groups as small as 15 boxes per week to as large as 15,000 boxes per week.

“They like what’s in the box,” he said. “We get emails, letters from people. It’s a great program and the feedback is so great.”

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services