“We don’t just consider ourselves a software company, but a produce company as well,” Dave Donat, President of Produce Pro Software, shares with me as we chat about the culture behind the company, and how the team is creating their own niche in the fresh produce industry. “We live and breathe produce and are able to provide a unique perspective and advantage for our customers. This differentiates the way we go to market and defines our goal as experts in fresh produce software solutions. That starts with this mindset.”
Dave has seen both the demands in the supply chain and the technological landscape change across our industry and considers his team to be a rare breed. Ready to respond, he says. As I speak with the 27-year vet, a trifecta emerges: himself, along with Tony Zuccato, Vice President of Operations, and Marc Hatfield, National Sales Manager. All bring with them a firm knowledge base, a committed desire to bringing their customers the most advanced software insights and innovative solutions, as well as a support system and culture that champions them day-in, and day-out.
“We believe that every company we serve, no matter how big or small, deserves the best support and expertise we have to offer. At Produce Pro, we are trying to create more automated, efficient, and user-friendly ways for customers to grow their operations and concentrate on their core businesses, instead of getting bogged down with inefficient processes and activities,” Marc tells me. “Our customers are more than clients; we see them as family.”
Produce Pro’s dedication to value and to its relationships with clients is what has helped put the company on the board, Tony says, adding that the family element that it has instilled in its philosophy also raises the bar for Produce Pro, and its customers.
“While we are providing innovative technology and business solutions to the fresh produce industry, we are not successful unless our customer is,” Tony shares. “We commit to the success of our customers and work hard everyday to evolve our solutions while keeping our finger on the pulse of the industry’s needs.”
So, where did this passion-filled company grow its roots? Dave shares with me the beginnings of the origin story, and an industry that came along, just by chance.
“What we like to hear is that our customers’ lives are better after they started with us, than before.”
- Dave Donat, President, Produce Pro Software
“Produce Pro was originally spawned out of a software consulting company in the Chicago, Illinois, area, working with clients across multiple industries,” Dave says. “The owners decided to get together and create a vertical product by focusing on a single package that they could deliver to a specific clientele group. It just so happened that one of the company’s sales members had his ear to the ground and had met with a handful of—you guessed it—fresh produce distributors who were looking for alternatives to their current software vendor.”
In 1990, after bringing all parties involved into the same room and listening to the business challenges and the needs of these produce distributors, the consulting company decided to write the software that could respond to distributors’ needs like these. Enter Produce Pro Software.
Dave’s unit gradually grew as a segment of the larger consulting company. In 2000, the business involved in the produce unit had become much different than the consulting company, and so the unit spun off into its own segment. In 2005, one of the two partners in the larger parent company sold their interest in Produce Pro to the other partner, and that is when Produce Pro physically moved into its own space. And, as Dave laughs, had to buy its own copy machine. He became President at this point in the game. With a computer science background, Dave was ready to hit the ground running and grow his team.
“Our goal is, and always has been, to be experts in both technology solutions and business solutions. We want to be the go-to people for answers, and have long-term business relationships, with our customer base. The way we do that is by maintaining a competitive advantage. What we like to hear is that our customers’ lives are better after they started with us, than before,” Dave adds.
Produce Pro delivers on these competitive advantages by listening to its clients and integrating their objectives with evolving industry trends. In other words, the team at Produce Pro does not build its programs in a bubble.
“A lot of our products are built in conjunction with our customers,” Marc notes, adding that they don’t have a think-tank mentality. “We look at our customers as partners. This results in bringing products to market that are really meeting their core needs and solving problems.”
Essentially, the Produce Pro program is always evolving and with each new capability and solution written into the software, each client benefits. Adding in functionalities and services helps all companies elevate their programs. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.
“Our consultants are not merely developers, engineers, and trainers, but experts in the perishables industry.”
- Tony Zuccato, Vice President of Operations, Produce Pro Software
The core Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is constantly being enhanced with newly added functionality on a regular basis. Each client informs the ERP capabilities and potential, resulting in a dialogue that constantly progresses the Produce Pro vision.
“Our ERP solution helps clients of all sizes increase their organizational efficiency, minimize waste and loss, and grow revenue. That is the goal of the ERP, and where our passion really comes through,” Dave smiles.
The ERP suite offers broad functionalities for growers, packers, and shippers, as well as foodservice and wholesale companies along with distributors, repackers, processors, retailers, and terminal market operations. And there is no need for complicated, expensive interfaces as Produce Pro’s tools are already integrated and designed with the ability to communicate with each other in real-time. At a glance, the ERP solution has functionalities ranging from accounting, pricing, inventory control, and business analysis, to shipping and receiving, sales order processing, lot tracking/traceability, purchasing, and repacking. And that is just naming a handful of benefits.
Produce Pro has also made strides over the years by bringing in a robust Warehouse Management System and has added Business Intelligence to its list of solutions—not to mention mobile platforms.
“Our team members are trained to understand all sides of the equation. Our consultants are not merely developers, engineers, and trainers, but experts in the perishables industry,” Tony says, adding that they talk the talk and can walk the walk.
That’s everything from dodging forklifts, or opening up a dialogue between software engineers, sales, and growing teams, to simply being available and ready to respond. After all, the produce industry’s goal is to be able to pivot on a dime.
“When a customer comes on board, we are there for the long-haul. We are not a check-the-box type of company.”
- MARC HATFIELD, NATIONAL SALES MANAGER, Produce Pro Software
With Produce Pro, the goal is to support the customer, and that extends through and continues after the implementation of the program.
“When a customer comes on board, we are there for the long-haul. We are not a check-the-box type of company,” Marc says. “This is a very important step in our program and we take the process very seriously. We really take the time to get to know the customer, their operations, and get them ready to turn over to a new system.”
“A key for us is our people. We have been doing this for 27 years, and we have a lot of folks who have been around the produce industry for a long time,” Marc shares.
Tony echoes the sentiment adding that it is the team, the chemistry of the group, and also their varying backgrounds that has allowed the company to grow and adapt to a constantly changing fresh produce environment.
“We immerse ourselves in this business, and like Dave said early on, we are a software and tech company that knows and understands the fresh produce dynamic and challenges. We can put ourselves in the customer’s shoes everyday, because we have been there,” Tony says. “Some people in the tech sector of our industry don’t understand produce distribution near as well as our people do. That really is our secret sauce and where we differentiate as well.”
Culture has a big impact at Produce Pro, from the consultant to the client. And as Marc says, this differentiation is key.
“Our culture at Produce Pro is unique and the atmosphere created here makes the hard work that much more satisfying and the successes that much more rewarding,” Marc says. “It is very family-oriented and many of our staff are not only coworkers, but friends. We all share the same vision of meeting the needs of our customers, and we have fun doing it.”
The high retention of long-term employees has also been a complement to the company. Many have been around for awhile, with the goal of being around for the long-term. During Tony’s time at the company, he has seen the staff grow from 15 to 90, and identifies this ability to retain the best talent in the industry as a benefit for all.
“We’ve averaged an over 90 percent retention rate over the past five years,” he says. “They come on-board with us and they tend to stay. I think this says a lot about our culture, and also that our team believes in the product and our vision.”
If information is power, then Produce Pro’s clients have it in spades. From best practices, to one-on-one education and training, and an evolving product mix, these software and produce experts are primed for growth–and the industry is responding.