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Planting the Seeds of a Legacy: A Meeting of the Minds

The best partnerships in our industry bring more than just a common interest to the table. They bring passion, an unwavering set of values, and a deep sense of commitment. And, if you are The Nunes Company and BlazerWilkinson, you can elevate that partnership with a discerning and keen eye for innovation and a longstanding vision to build an industry-recognized brand and legacy.

Bringing more than five combined decades to the table, Tom Nunes, Jr., a.k.a. T4, President of The Nunes Company and the popular Foxy brands, and John Wilkinson, Co-Founder of strawberry growing operation BlazerWilkinson, join me to discuss the roots of their story and how a dinner table conversation led to an unrivaled collaboration.

Santa Maria, Ca

“What was cultivated between The Nunes Company and BlazerWilkinson began as a friendship that developed into a business relationship—comfortably and seamlessly, built entirely on trust. At Nunes, building quality relationships matters to us and is at the core of what we do,” Tom says. “This is the way we love to do business and the way we have evolved our program for over 40 years, and we are proud to continue building on that foundation. Our partnership came from one of those rare occasions where the conversation aligns, and all the pieces come together as if the fit was always waiting for us to find it.”

 

Setting the Table for the Future

That rare occasion that planted the seeds for this partnership took place in early December 2007, when Tom and his wife Margot joined John and Pam Wilkinson for a pleasant holiday dinner in Carmel Valley, California. While friendship and the meal may have been the reason for coming together, the “meat” of the dinner quickly became a conversation about the produce industry and the Foxy brand.

“Our partnership came from one of those rare occasions where the conversation aligns, and all the pieces come together...”

- Tom Nunes, Jr., President, The Nunes Company

Over the decades, The Nunes Company has established a strong history of licensing the Foxy brand to other companies in the industry, extending its promise of quality, care, and stewardship to those able to match its values. Given the nearly three-decade-long friendship between Tom and John, that dinner conversation inevitably led to the idea that BlazerWilkinson could license the Foxy brand to sell its own premium-quality conventional and organic strawberries.

Tom Nunes, Jr. (left) and John Wilkinson (right) walking through a field that supplies their Foxy brand strawberries

John Wilkinson and Scott Blazer founded BlazerWilkinson in 1996, distributing fresh strawberries, along with growing, packing, and shipping from their own California strawberry farms, which were established in 2003.

“With integrity and reliability, the Nunes team built that brand into one of the most well-known brands in the Western fresh produce industry.”

- John Wilkinson, Co-Founder, BlazerWilkinson

Foxy brand conventional strawberries

“We had been packing under our Big Red label and increasing our company’s growing operations gradually each year,” John says. “The Nunes family had begun packing iceberg lettuce under the Foxy brand in 1976 and then rapidly expanded it to all the western vegetable items. With integrity and reliability, the Nunes team built that brand into one of the most well-known brands in the Western fresh produce industry. The thought of using a well-established brand such as Foxy made a lot of sense to us.”

A week later, following that fruitful conversation, Tom, Scott, John, and John’s oldest son, Jack, were sitting over lunch making plans to switch to the Foxy brand early in the spring of 2008. What the two companies walked away from the table with that day, was a new licensing agreement that would allow BlazerWilkinson to use the prestigious Foxy brand to sell its program’s strawberries.

 

Rising to the Top of the Strawberry Game

While today, the partnership has grown into an established program coveted by retailers across the country, the roots of that 2007 dinner conversation are still fresh in Tom and John’s mind.

Foxy brand organic strawberries

“It is amazing to think that initial talk was more than ten years ago as the relationship between our families and the business has continued to grow,” Tom says. “While it was the spring of 2008 when the first Foxy strawberries began appearing on retail shelves, we were already positioning ourselves for the next wave of growth and in 2010 we, in partnership with BlazerWilkinson, began farming our first strawberry crop.”

Within a year, BlazerWilkinson began farming strawberries on Nunes’ ranches taking advantage of its large, high-quality land base. In 2012, BlazerWilkinson went into partnership with Daren Gee as one of the largest strawberry growers in Santa Maria—well known for his strong, high-quality fruit.

A strawberry field in Santa Maria, Ca

“These partnerships ensure that BlazerWilkinson can control the health, quality, and appearance of the final product,” John adds.

And with that strong foundation on both sides in place, the relationship between the families and the business has continued to flourish for over a decade.

“These partnerships ensure that BlazerWilkinson can control the health, quality, and appearance of the final product.”

- John Wilkinson

With both conventional and organic berry demand growing in leaps and bounds, Tom shares that the partnership made complete sense, on more than one level.

Fresh BlazerWilkinson strawberries

“It all really did happen that quickly; and it is a testament to the kind of relationships we build here at Nunes,” Tom smiles and says. “We knew we wanted to be a part of the expanding and exciting berry marketplace, and growing my friendship with John and Scott into a business relationship felt like an easy and natural progression. Nunes and BlazerWilkinson have similar business philosophies and goals, and Scott and John have many years of experience in the strawberry business. With these attributes, we have become strong, like-minded partners.”

 

Speaking the Retail Language

Those on the buy-side might be asking what benefit this relationship will be to them. Well, Tom has an answer for that as well.

“One of the major benefits of the BlazerWilkinson-Foxy relationship will be providing an opportunity to load strawberries along with ‘Foxy' vegetable items, creating a true one-stop-shop for retailers," he explains. "As customers look to maximize their efficiencies, the ability to offer premium-quality strawberries and vegetable items at the same loading facility becomes a necessity.”

John Wilkinson (left) and Tom Nunes, Jr. (right) inspecting a strawberry field in Santa Maria, Ca

Today, BlazerWilkinson ships conventional and organic blueberries several months out of the year, and already has laid down the groundwork in Mexico, Georgia, California, and British Columbia to offer an expanded availability soon. Also, keep your eyes peeled for BlazerWilkinson raspberries bearing the Foxy label popping up in stores not too far down the road, the Nunes and BlazerWilkinson team adds.

“As customers look to maximize their efficiencies, the ability to offer premium-quality strawberries and vegetable items at the same loading facility becomes a necessity.”

- Tom Nunes, Jr.

“In the future, we can expect solid growth in both conventional and organic berries,” John shares with me, adding that it is important to emphasize that these family farms work together to produce high-quality berries and vegetables under the Foxy brand. “Together, our unified approach to promote and market the Foxy brand is one that puts an unmatchable priority on top-quality customer service and reliability.”

As the saying goes, two heads may be better than one, and, in our industry, the breaking of bread between friends can be an undeniable and essential catalyst for many great moments—a passionate conversation, a new perspective, and, oftentimes, for those of us in fresh produce, the start of a beautiful and enduring business relationship.