Flexibility is crucial in our industry, yet it’s rarely polished. Oftentimes, this ability necessitates grit, a sharp edge, and even a sharp tongue. In a recent issue of The Snack, Anne Allen wrote of how it is important to know when to be Dr. Jekyll and when to be Mr. Hyde—this middle space is where we find the ones who will manifest a solution to an impossible problem.
As fresh produce providers have continued to roll with the punches, D’Arrigo New York solidified this space for partners, ensuring a place for fresh produce in any circumstance. Gabriela D’Arrigo, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, sat down with me to talk about establishing that environment, as well as the changes it has spurred for the wholesaler and those it serves.
Gabriela D’Arrigo, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, D’Arrigo New York: As the middlemen, wholesalers have always had to understand both the challenges of our suppliers and of our customers. Then, we have to be able to provide stability and solutions to all of those challenges. I don’t think anybody plans with the potential of a pandemic in mind, but the dead-stop of foodservice made that role very clear. We received calls from the industry with trucks of product and nowhere to go, so we found places for it.
It’s important for retailers and operators to know that, because of this, we are handling much more than the perfect product. Plenty of it is finding and placing product for somebody else when another market couldn’t. That product is going to be more affordable, we’re going to know exactly where it comes from, and, yes, this is a safe place to buy good produce. Quite frankly, it will be more cost-effective for those retailers and foodservice operators who want to buy on a short market, and we are the ones willing to make that opportunity available.
Oftentimes, though, doing this has been received with a negative connotation. But understanding there is a place and a need for all of this supply is how we cut costs, shrink, and food waste.
“...one of the biggest accomplishments to date is making sure our supplier program is as perfect as it possibly can be. Now, our main focus is our facility, with much more to come as we dig in further.”
Gabriela D’Arrigo, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, D’Arrigo New York
GD: We welcomed our new Food Safety Director, Pierre Jusim, who brings an impressive background and the experience we need to get an operation our size ahead of the curve. Part of that is in an SQF (safe quality food) certification, which we are currently working toward. This is a huge endeavor with significant impacts, from vendor to customer, when every major retailer and restaurant is asking for your certification and your level achieved. The certification has encompassed renovations, upgrades to coolers and panels, and more. This is significant, especially amid market conditions which have been extra challenging this year. The wholesale world is still very much the Wild West, and we’re dealing with everybody else’s rejections, shorts, or surplus. So, we’re problem solvers by nature.
Finally, one of the biggest accomplishments to date is making sure our supplier program is as perfect as it possibly can be. Now, our main focus is our facility, with much more to come as we dig in further. Pierre has been crucial in clarifying the different levels of influence these moves will have for us and our customers.
GD: The magnitude of this move is fundamental, so it will impact everyone’s daily execution. From those unloading, the foremen who are managing the inventory and ensuring everything is accurately logged, and the salesmen who will now be integral in helping customers find what they need as we begin scanning individually, to those of us telling our story or reporting to leadership—a granular understanding of these steps and changes through every level of our company is crucial. It’s going to require a lot more work and a lot more time, labor, and money.
This is an expensive undertaking right out of the gate, but once every kind of SKU gets into the system and we begin to find our rhythm, it will become an integrated part of our routine. That paper trail will follow all the way into our final reports. Because of this, our Food Safety Director has to know all the ins and outs of our business to show everyone what changes will be taking place where.
The certification, upgrades, and change in practices are an incredible amount of work that will mean more labor and more time, ultimately ensuring we continue to deliver the best possible product to customers.
GD: We have to hunker down and figure out the formula that will inspire that a-ha moment. It is all to make the consumer feel confident in the products they’re purchasing from the fresh produce industry.
We know exactly where broccoli goes in the store, but it takes more time and attention to detail, which, ultimately, puts more pressure on the team. It starts there from the receiving end. Something that’s going to have to go hand in hand with all of these food safety changes and regulations is implementing major marketing campaigns explaining why consumers and customers are paying for this and why it is so important.
We all have to be able to help consumers and customers understand and buy into why it is important to be willing and comfortable paying a little more.
Ultimately, it is a small amount now to avoid larger economic issues later, and we need to do a better job of communicating that.
“We all have to be able to help consumers and customers understand and buy into why it is important to be willing and comfortable paying a little more.”
GD: It’s human nature to want to have options, even if you don’t choose any of them. New York provides limitless choices in terms of what to do and eat. It makes for a very competitive but active environment, creating something worth following.
For our part, this diversity created a culture of tens of thousands of SKUs because you will remember we gave you that option. On the flip side, weather has gotten more harsh as a result of the different climate changes that have occurred. New York has had to elevate our process in loading and unloading because we don’t have any time to leave product on a dock. These elements necessitated more strategic moves on our part. It’s high stakes all the time.
GD: I equate our reaction to the current environment to the crisis management part of public relations: Have a crisis management plan in place so you’re not paying that top dollar when you do have a problem.
Wholesale is the segment of the businesses that has the ability to be the most nimble, and that’s very commonly overlooked. To pivot on a dime, especially in a major metropolitan area, is a huge asset we enable our customers to have. Often, once a menu is set or product is in the ground, that’s it—they’re committed to it. We have the ability to adjust. That should not be forgotten when it comes to the importance of different segments in the industry.
When you know how to play the market as a buyer and how to use the market as a supplier, it’s only going to make you better at the business. Wholesale is that option when you think there is no option, regardless of what the situation is. I promise you: We will find the solution no one else sees.
The ability to recognize a possibility that is shadowed for others is invaluable in an industry as fluid as ours. Sometimes we can step back and see the solution for ourselves, and sometimes we need someone else to find the piece that eluded us.
To show us there is no such thing as no option.