The future is collaboration. In many ways, I hear this more and more across not only our fresh produce industry, but across multiple businesses and industries as well. Maybe it is the simple thought that if we step into the ring together, we are stronger for it. If we bring more solutions to the fight and have more thought investment, then we are contributing to the dialogue. For Fresh Solutions Network (FSN), the meeting of the minds meant more partnerships to carry the value of innovation forward and to ensure a united front of category leadership in the marketplace.
“In 2008, some of the best and brightest potato farmers saw major trends in the marketplace: supplier consolidation, retailer consolidation, focus on food safety/traceability, the emergence of brands in produce, and many other changes,” Kathleen Triou, President and CEO, shares with me as she reflects on the origins of the company. “They realized that they needed to do business differently, not only to survive but more so to grow moving forward. The goal was to create a national network without losing the individual farm identity and local farm positioning. The desire to achieve these ideals is what has elevated the Network and the potato category.”
With that in mind, the companies of Sterman Masser in Pennsylvania, Basin Gold Cooperative in Washington, and Michael Family Farms in Ohio created the Fresh Solutions Network, LLC. Jump forward a quick and productive seven years, and by 2015 the Network grew to its current state of eight partners, geographically located across the country in the best potato growing areas.
“Through the partners of the Network, we can supply the industry 365 days a year. We own the land and are vertically integrated. This business model helps to control the high quality that we sell,” Kathleen tells me, noting that the team continually strives to provide a better solution over other suppliers and brokers. “We strive to provide regional solutions and national reach to be a preferred supplier of retailers. We endeavor to feed the world one meal at a time.”
When she says vertically integrated, Kathleen means that the Network grows, stores, packs, and ships all of its product, making it a one-stop-shop for all fresh potato needs. The category has always been a staple on the table with its presence across meals and demographics; the perfect partnership can make the ideal potato program for customers.
Kathleen and her team have not only removed barriers to entry for the perfect potato program, but have also created a road map to ensure success. So, what is this road map? Retail and/or foodservice buyers choose one or more preferred point(s) of contact from among all FSN partners, and the partners coordinate sourcing and supply for a total custom assortment.
“This approach provides total transparency from field to fork. Everything we do is based on the idea that if you know more, you can grow more. That’s what happens when our partners work together with each other and when buyers work together with us!” Kathleen says. “In summary, Fresh Solutions Network partners are independent operating companies that grow, pack, sell, and deliver potatoes and onions to grocery and foodservice customers across the U.S. and Canada. Our operational solutions deliver supply-side efficiency and quality through state-of-the-art agricultural, processing, packing, sales, and logistics operations. The Network partners span more than 65,000 acres in the U.S. and Canada, and encompass all major growing regions, seasons, and varieties.”
The element that allows the Network to be so successful in its go-to-market strategy is that value of collaboration we spoke of earlier, and just as important: individuality.
Collaboration is powerful precisely because of the uniqueness of each partner and each customer, Kathleen shares. FSN believes each customer’s program should be tailored to its unique needs and developed through collaboration among and between FSN’s partners and the customer.
“By reimagining and reinventing how consumers perceive, prepare, and serve potatoes, we reengage them in the category. The result is a reenergized category that drives traffic, sales, and profit.”
— Kathleen Triou, President & CEO
“We believe that respect for each FSN partner’s unique brand identity is fundamental, and sharing in each other’s ability to succeed is essential. Each must share if they are to grow, and each must grow if they are to share,” Kathleen notes.
Accountability and transparency contribute to the business model as well, playing huge roles in maintaining value and authenticity at all levels of the program. As Kathleen says, transparency demands accountability, and accountability demands transparency.
“We promise FSN customers will always know what product they’re buying and from which provider they’re buying it,” she mentions. “Additionally, FSN partners are accountable for quality and service, to each other and their customers, because it is their farms at stake, not someone else’s.”
Moreover, any company focused on long-term growth cannot pave the road forward without insight and innovation. Better information delivers a better product and better performance.
“We want every FSN customer to benefit from an analysis of their product mix and marketing plan in the context of their competitive set. With the context of competitive insights, the product is a strategic business asset. Without it, it’s just something you hope you can sell,” Kathleen explains. “We believe the best breakthroughs—in products and business—arrive at the intersection of insights and collaboration. FSN partners turn category data into insights and consult with their customers to develop innovative products.”
The beauty of the FSN way is that the consumer, category, industry, and trend insights serve as the foundation from which the Network identifies and introduces product, packaging, and process innovations—innovations that are designed to increase consumer satisfaction, stimulate incremental purchases, drive supply chain efficiencies, and improve overall category vitality and performance.
“Consumers have said that they are in a ‘potato rut’ and would serve potatoes more often if they knew of different ways to prepare them. They also want to get dinner on the table in 30 minutes or less and aren’t sure how potatoes can fit into that routine,” Kathleen tells me. “By reimagining and reinventing how consumers perceive, prepare, and serve potatoes, we reengage them in the category. The result is a reenergized category that drives traffic, sales, and profit.”
I love listening to Kathleen tell the story of FSN. You can hear from the start that the team has thought long and hard about what it means to speak their story and hold themselves to a higher standard.
Kathleen herself knows the meaning of leadership well, as she has a shared vision for growth based on nearly 20 years of experience in the food industry. Before joining Fresh Solutions Network, Kathleen held senior marketing leadership positions for two of the largest produce industry commodity boards, Avocados From Mexico (AFM) and the United States Potato Board (USPB). While she was Chief Marketing Officer for AFM, Kathleen oversaw advertising, promotion, consumer public relations, foodservice marketing, and research. Before that, she was Vice President, Domestic Marketing, for the United States Potato Board, where she led the domestic marketing functions of the Board including consumer advertising, public relations, consumer research, foodservice marketing, nutrition research, retail programs, and social media.
The industry maven has also held client management positions at Seismicom, an integrated marketing agency; (Nielsen) Perishables Group, and BPRI, an international business-to-business research company, as well as marketing positions at the Almond Board of California and E&J Gallo Winery. Kathleen has an MBA from Midwestern State University, a BS in Business from Miami University, Ohio, and attained the rank of Captain in the U.S. Air Force.
She is a true believer in our industry and approaches each day with a passion for its success.
“I love the notion that we truly are feeding the world one meal at a time. How many people can say that?” she laughs and says.
The FSN product portfolio reflects the Network’s desire to energize the potato category with its Side Delights® brand of fresh potatoes. From organic and conventional bagged potatoes to gourmet potato kits, and convenience items like Steamables and Flavorables, the Side Delights brand delivers on what consumers want.
“Consumer macro trends would allude to more effort against bold flavors, convenience, snacking, sustainable packaging, and organic offerings. It’s not a mystery to know which direction the category should go; the trick is to realize the vision at retail, especially on the shelf,” Kathleen shares with me.
The company’s go-to-market strategy is more of a grow-to-market strategy, if you ask me. And in this industry, growth is the name of the game.