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The Organic Heavy Hitters: Crosset Company

Hitting it out of the ballpark is quite literally the bar that the Crosset Company has set its sights on as we kick off 2018. Pun intended.

Primed for growth across its wholesale produce business categories, Crosset has become a premier distributor of fresh produce, delivering sustainable, profitable growth for both its customers and suppliers. With a vision comprised of heritage, culture, and passion for helping customers succeed, Vice President Tim Shepard and Sales and Merchandising Manager Bob Lummis join me to discuss the journey at-hand and its fresh focus on the organic evolution that Crosset is sure to achieve.

“While we always have the goal of fueling growth within the produce department, our go-to-market strategies always keep one thing in mind—doing what is best for our vendors and retail partners,” Tim tells me, as he reflects on where loyalties lie during times of rapid growth. “Whether it is working with vendors to innovate new products and meet the organic and conventional demands of the value-added or on-the-go consumer, or bringing new concepts into the merchandising fold, we try and keep our fingers on the pulse of the industry’s concerns and needs, while aligning with today’s changing consumer landscape. And organics are key.”

As a proud member of the Castellini Group of Companies—whose owner, Bob Castellini, is also Chairman of the Board and Primary Owner of the Cincinnati Reds—Crosset brings wholesale distribution and logistics resources, as well as a skilled network of in-house and field buyers and in-house ripening and value-added capabilities, including fresh-cut produce. In the past few years, Crosset has experienced substantial growth in organics, reinvigorating its movement into the sector.

Bob Lummis (left) and Tim Shepard (right) at the Great American Ball Park in Cinncinati, Ohio

On the retail front, Crosset is strategically positioned to help retailers increase the ring at the register, while supporting its vendors by helping them cultivate new relationships and partnerships. The company also continuously improves its customer service initiatives to ensure that Crosset is functioning at the highest standards of excellence, always measuring its progress to address challenges as they occur—even perceiving many issues before they arise.

“In Crosset’s drive to grow our organic sector, we have been expanding our sourcing program of premier growers and shippers in the organic produce farming community,” Bob shares, noting that quality is key—from the seed to the sales desk. “Securing our relationships with these growers through our commitment and building a relationship that lasts will ensure our long-term growth for Crosset, our customers, and our vendor partners.”

"Organic Growth"

As we move through the first quarter of 2018, Crosset currently maintains a portfolio that represents over 1,200 conventional SKUs, as well as a diverse selection of over 400 organic SKUs and rising. The company’s growth has been accelerating in recent years, with plans to capture a larger share of the market as the team keeps their eyes down field. With that said, the company has always made those moves with “organic” growth in mind, to ensure that they can maintain the value and quality that has become synonymous with Crosset.

“While there is always the bottom line to consider, we see a company as a family of relationships first. We can continue to be a leader in our marketing arena with quality and high-percentage fill rates and deliverables to our customers—but that level of service can only be maintained with a culture that values the team, the individual, and the supplier relationships,” Tim tells me. “We are in an incredibly competitive market, and fueling growth within the produce department needs to start with the team you put together, and we have an amazing one at Crosset. Relationships—within Crosset as well as with our vendors and retail partners—are key to building brand recognition and loyalty in the marketplace. Here at Crosset, you do not just partner with the product, but with the brand, the people, and reputations that have made us industry leaders. We are family.”

“We are in an incredibly competitive market and fueling growth within the produce department needs to start with the team you put together, and we have an amazing one at Crosset.”

- Tim Shepard, Vice President

And this family-like atmosphere is Tim’s favorite aspect of working at Crosset. With a lifetime as a Cincinnati, Ohio, resident, Tim finds home in his profession—something he is more likely to call a passion and a lifestyle than a job.

Tim brings a wealth of knowledge to his role and leads the Crosset Company in its mission to distribute high-quality, safe, certified-organic and conventional produce and floral in a way that contributes to its customers’ success and delights shoppers. Tim started his produce career as a produce clerk, manager, and merchandising specialist with Kroger. He joined the Crosset Company in 1988 as a merchandiser. During his tenure he has been a Buyer, Sales Manager, and Director of Procurement. In 2015, he became Executive Vice President/General Manager, with responsibility for all aspects of Crosset Company operations.

Vice President Tim Shepard (left) and Sales and Merchandising Manager Bob Lummis (right) at the Great American Ball Park in Cinncinati, Ohio

So, as you can see, Crosset’s drive and passion for growth isn’t just an element of its business model, but a quality of its individual team members as well.

While the family element, key partnerships, and focus on relationships are always top-of-mind, another essential element in Crosset’s growing program is demonstrating the best merchandising practices at the store level. Crosset’s objective is to continue to uphold its reputation for having supplies in-stock more often than its competitors, with quality product that is merchandised with excitement to increase sales and consumer satisfaction.

Looks Count

In the merchandising arena, Crosset has made leaps and bounds to address the needs of the produce floor and new landscape opportunities within the retail parameters. Bob, who grew up in Central Ohio and worked for a local supermarket chain, has an artist’s background in oil and watercolor painting, and approaches the produce department like a canvas.

Bob Lummis, Sales and Merchandising Manager, Crosset Company“When I moved into retail, I discovered a new palette to work from in the produce department. In marketing and in merchandising it is about having an eye for balance, and having an eye for visual appeal and nuances. When I began with the Castellini Group of Companies, Crosset’s parent company, in 1987, I knew that I had found the perfect outlet to use my art and my perspective,” Bob shares. “Our volume and velocity means our retail partners can bring enjoyment to shoppers with the freshest organic produce available every day. Exposure is key when it comes to merchandising, whether it is proper signage and recognition, or tactically positioning your real estate to address peak products or specialty items during different times of the year. I look at it like each decision I have to make is also an opportunity.”

Tim Shepard, Vice President, Crosset CompanyThe produce department has become a place to open a dialogue with the consumer, to expose them and invite them into different destinations, categories, concepts—from the wet wall to bins and islands. This potential is an arena Bob relishes in.

“It is not just about putting the product on the shelves. I think the best thing is to first listen to the retailer, then help determine a vision and a goal to create an inviting produce department,” Bob explains. “It helps you get into the mind of the process, the needs of the project, what is possible, and what boundaries can be pushed. Listening can open up as many doors if not more, than just talking and inserting aesthetic can.”

Family-First

It is this care and passion that truly differentiates Crosset in the wholesale business, and it comes from the company’s commitment from its people to be the best.

“I know I have said it many times in our conversations, but we have a great support team in procurement, merchandising, and operations, and our commitment to our premier growers and shippers is a two-way street,” Tim reflects. “Our people make it happen. Crosset is a hands-on company, and we are dedicated to providing a space where industry conversations can be nurtured and then goals can be executed. To ensure your organic produce program is authentic, we hold ourselves and our suppliers to stringent organic certifications, standards, and best practices.”

In addition, Crosset ensures organic produce program partners are successful by customizing a total program from field to store. This vision includes next-day delivery, cross-dock solutions to complement existing produce programs, ripening and repacking, merchandising training and tools, and the latest information on new items, supply conditions, trends, and more.

Crosset’s distribution network spans 20 states

“Crosset’s centralized procurement team and extensive grower and customer network allow us to maintain a reliable, always-fresh inventory of regionally and seasonally best certified organic fruits and vegetables from the most recognized growers, here and across the globe,” Tim says, as the company looks to the foundation it has already formed, and the road ahead. “We are always on our toes and looking to anticipate the next food movement, and that is where organics became a large part of our business model. Our people are always engaged—ear to the ground—and that allows us to pivot on a dime.”

The vision and execution of the company’s business model is enough to bring even the biggest critic on board, I reflect on the sentiment that Tim and Bob bring to the table: the value of relationships, the essential family-like care, and the team mentality.

Take it from someone who has seen this group in action; the people not only make the engine run—they are its heart.