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Challenge Accepted: A Q&A With Dave Hewitt, Vice President of Sales, 4Earth Farms

Challenge Accepted: A Q&A With Dave Hewitt, Vice President of Sales, 4Earth Farms™

"In my experience, telling people our story invites them to be a part of it.” In an industry of competitors fighting to be chosen, Dave Hewitt feels the way to shine is not to pound his chest, but to let his passion galvanize ours.

The produce maverick and newly named Vice President of Sales proves his strategy right by me as he recounts how one of the greatest hurdles to the organic segment became 4Earth Farms sweet spot.

Settle in as challenges pave the way for victories, doubt becomes intrigue, and one sales guy transforms into a raconteur for the company that made it all possible.

Melissa De Leon Chavez: Dave, I can only imagine the number of challenges, hoops, and hurdles you and 4Earth Farms have had to navigate in the time you’ve been with the team. Can you tell me about how this all started?

Dave Hewitt: I recently celebrated 18 years with the company, and we all have come a long way—we’ve grown up together. I came on board to help grow sales as we were beginning to expand our audience from a primarily foodservice focus. My experience in produce up to that point had been mostly, if not entirely, focused on selling to retail. I started out at Perricone Citrus in the early ’90s and really found this industry fun! I was having a blast while being trusted to go out to spread the word, make new friends, and grow sales.

Back then, I could not have imagined the evolution of 4Earth Farms. In the early days, it often felt like we were crashing parties we weren’t invited to, so to speak. Looking back, we were searching for our identity, our niche, and how to differentiate ourselves. It took a lot of work, some misses and some successes, but all necessary—and certainly more successes than misses.

MDC: Looking back over your 18 years, is there a turning point where that search for the company’s identity shifted to more tangible successes? Did you see any changes in our industry that might have fueled that?

DH: 4Earth Farms really turned the corner, and certainly I did in my journey, when we were presented with a game-changing opportunity to step into the organic arena. The industry desire and demand for more organic was just underway when an extraordinary opportunity came to help meet that demand. We stepped up to the challenge, way out of our comfort zone and into our next chapter. That’s where the fire really started within us, definitely within me. Talk about a rejuvenation!

“We have a great story, and I am passionate about sharing it with others. In fact, it’s probably my favorite part of the job.”

Dave Hewitt, Vice President of Sales, 4Earth Farms™

Through that experience, we have transitioned more focus on organic opportunities that now finds us on the leading edge of what the segment is today.

MDC: Speaking of rejuvenation, 4Earth’s organic prowess seems to have been a continuation of its already strong conventional offerings. Was this an intentional move or—for lack of a better word—organic?

DH: It was absolutely intentional. We’ve got a great team that has figured out how to overcome our largest challenge: How do we grow organically and expand our conventional mix into the organic world with year-round supply? This, as it turns out, was a huge puzzle that a very talented group in our company was able to solve: Finding the most optimal areas to grow effectively, responsibly with consistency. And while we certainly have, and will continue to stub our toes in some areas, it’s this experience that enables us to evolve into the organic partner we strive to be, focused on the items that we do really well and making them available all year long.

MDC: It definitely seems there were a lot of miles involved in working out how to pick up the gauntlet the company was thrown. Would you say this team is part of what differentiates 4Earth Farms from others in the organic arena?

DH: I definitely would. Putting that global puzzle together and finding the right elements to the equation to make a consistent organic supply actually work resulted in us utilizing tools other people aren’t using yet. 4Earth Farms has the passion and, thankfully, the resources, to be out there figuring this out. We have team members with the experience that only comes with time and all that that brings to the table.

We have a great story, and I am passionate about sharing it with others. In fact, it’s probably my favorite part of the job.

These things combined have allowed us to grow not just our organic timeline but our entire portfolio. In addition to Brussels sprouts, we have added a diverse range of core offerings that include Persian cucumbers, zucchini, French beans, green beans, sugar snap peas, mini sweet peppers, and colored bell peppers. The list only continues to grow. These moves have instilled such faith in our retail partners that we have two new projects with two different retail customers who we’ve kept in a 52-week supply. Now, they’re ready to launch it in their own brand.

I think that’s always such a strong indicator of our capabilities, especially when it’s a new item for the customer.

MDC: I know you identify as a foodie—when we discussed the What The Fork recipe 4Earth Farms featured in our June issue, you called your own experience with the dish a religious one. How would you say the foodie movement has impacted fresh produce?

DH: It starts at the top with Brussels sprouts, which it seems not long ago were not even remotely on our radar, let alone that of foodies’. Now, we continue to have fun with it, and the demand for it is always climbing, which inspired us to focus on providing organic Brussels sprouts all year long. Foodies want something new and exciting and, oftentimes, they want it organically grown.

Shishito peppers are another one of our items that has just skyrocketed from being unknown to demanded, and it’s great to be able to educate and teach people about them.

And then, as these items grow in popularity, we get to dive into how we are presenting the product. Do they want it trimmed and cleaned, with spices and certain bags they can cook it in? Are those bags the right recyclability? So, the whole process from how it’s grown to how it’s packaged, presented, and taken from the farm is going to continue to evolve thanks in large part to foodies, and it’s fun to be at the center of that as we are.

We’ve really ridden the wave into the gourmet experience, and retailers and consumers have relied on our product support to help build sales.

MDC: It does sound like ensuring consistent supply allows 4Earth Farms to both shine and nurture rising demand. What is the team doing to supply these new standards year-round, especially in organic?

DH: A key part of our strategy is that we continue to diversify and expand where we grow. It’s this diversity, and our neverending search for optimum growing regions, that enables us to supply our organic SKUs 365 days a year. Our experience has shown us that when you’re out of an item, the door is wide open for somebody else to jump in and take it. Challenges always arise, but our customers appreciate our approach and expect us to continue to raise the bar when it comes to supply. Additionally, we take pride and value the confidence many of our customers put in us to be private label partners. You’re doing something right when you’re invited to participate at that level. It’s those opportunities to be strategic, crop plan, develop items, and elevate the partnership that fire me up and keep me coming back for more.

While there’s joy in success, it is the challenges which Dave points to as the true moments of victory. The hoops that seemed too high, the puzzles that looked unsolvable, the feats which he was sure the team wouldn’t be able to pull off, are what Dave remembers now with a smile.

Those crazy ideas like “let’s supply organic items year-round” become defining moments that inspire others to be a part of what he and 4Earth Farms do.

Because win or lose, you can always bet on a good story.