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FPAA panel touts supply diversification and relationships

FPAA panel
(L-R) Patrick Mills, Basha’s; Julie Olivarria, Sysco; Jeremy Smith, Charlie’s Produce; Caitlyn Tierney, most recently with Sprouts Farmers Market; and Ron Lemaire, CPMA.

TUCSON, AZ – Weather events this year seem to have caused more disruptions in the produce supply chain than normal.

Here are just a few:

Tropical Storm Norma could affect West Mexico vegetables

FFVA gives hurricane Idalia damage update

Hurricane Hilary update: Prices rising for many items

Salinas lettuce sees supply gaps due to spring flooding

Atmospheric rivers past and present

A panel of produce buyers at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas BB #:144354 annual meeting November 3 shared their lessons and experiences.

The key themes were the importance of diversification and supply relationships.

“During weather events, the 80-20 rule [contract vs. open market] goes out the window,” said Caitlyn Tierney, most recently with Sprouts Farmers Market. “We rely more on contracts and relationships with suppliers.”

“We used to buy 60 percent on the open market,” said Jeremy Smith of Charlie’s Produce, but supplies have been so unpredictable due to weather problems. “Now we have 80 or 90 percent on contracts for foodservice business.”

“We’ve expanded from our core of suppliers and now have more contingency plans,” said Julie Olivarria of Sysco. “We can’t be in a position to offer a great price and have no supply.”

Tierney said diversification goes beyond the number and location of suppliers.

“We’ve been diversifying more on sizing,” she said. “And we’re seeing much more transparency with growers than 20 years ago.

Patrick Mills, with Basha’s, said his retailer has been forced expand its supply relationships.

“Diversification isn’t easy or quick,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Ron Lemaire of CPMA said he’s seen relationships become more important than ever, and in Canada, retailers are working with more domestic suppliers than before to help gain more control over produce supplies.


Greg Johnson is Vice President of Media for Blue Book Services