Many do not have the privilege of realizing when they are knocking on the doors of evolution. Just as a caterpillar tactically and methodically crafts its cocoon based on only an intrinsic impulse, uncertain of the vibrant wings that will soon break through it, companies everywhere have unknowingly sparked their own transformations and were left to ponder the catalyst to their success.
Watching your own metamorphosis in real-time is a gift—one that D’Arrigo New York is gracefully unwrapping as it lays the groundwork for an invigorated organic program.
With this in mind, I can clearly envision Gabriela D’Arrigo, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, on the other end of the phone as we kick off an exploration of the wholesaler’s newfound blueprint for growth.
“The pandemic has obviously changed the way a lot of people look at their food,” Gabriela notes, and the conversation shifts to one of the budding reasons we cannot discuss this face to face. But, the unforeseen event ended up opening a new channel of demand for the company. “Health has been a very popular focus over the last five to seven years, but the pandemic really kicked it into overdrive. People are now looking at everything they’re putting in their bodies because they want to build up their immune system and maintain good health practices. In many shoppers’ minds, organic equals healthy, so a lot of our independent retailers said, ‘This is something we need to have.’ That was really the catalyst for us to step up and actually start a legitimate organic program.”
D’Arrigo New York has taken several key steps to build out its organic division and meet this steadily rising demand, including the development of cutting-edge facilities to back its impending growth.
"I know everyone says it’s not good to have too many hands in the fire, but in this situation, it absolutely is. Each of us can handle our own different flame."
Gabriela D’Arrigo, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, D’Arrigo New York
“We have an external facility across the street from the main Hunts Point Produce Market in The Bronx, New York, and it was formerly John Georgallas Banana Distributors. We took that business over in 2016 and totally revamped the facility. Our Food Safety Director, Bobby Stead, was absolutely instrumental in getting it food safety- and organic-ready. Everything in it is basically brand new, so Bobby looked at that and said, ‘This is the facility we’re going to certify because everything’s going to be state-of-the-art,’” Gabriela adds.
In addition to a facility primed for organic expansion, the wholesaler is pulling out even more stops to establish itself as a leader in the sector, tapping into the expertise of organic savant Eric Mitchnick, the company’s newly appointed Director of Organics.
“D’Arrigo New York is well-versed in finding organic customers and knowing who needs a product and where we can place it, so we had a little bit of a foundation already built. It was the very bare bones of the skeletal structure, if you will, and we were incredibly confident that Eric would be able to fill that in,” Gabriela says.
The new Director brings a wealth of experience to D’Arrigo New York’s organic operation, wielding an impressive history in produce spanning over two decades. Diving into his career at a natural food store in Long Island, New York, the fresh maven found a deep passion for organic produce and its correlation to the well-being of the environment and farmworkers.
“When organic wasn’t really a thing, Eric was one of those people who said, ‘No, we need to do organic.’ He’s been around a very long time, and he is well-established in the organic world,” Gabriela says. “He’s a wealth of information in that segment. It was the perfect storm. Eric had taken a brief break from work during the pandemic to spend time with his family and then got the itch to be in produce again. Right when we said we were looking to expand our organic program, those conversations started, and voilà, he joined us. It was only his second week with us, and he was already at the Organic Produce Summit working the show floor like he was an old pro.”
If the cocoon is the high-tech facility in which D’Arrigo New York will work to expand its organic program, Eric embodies the actions of a caterpillar, carefully placing each building block to establish a formidable operation and create new opportunities for the wholesaler.
As Director of the Organic Division, Eric’s focus will be on purchasing organic items, as well as maintaining the vital relationships that back D’Arrigo New York’s success. His extensive knowledge of the industry and long-term relationships with many of its leaders make him the ideal force to aid in the company’s transformation, developing new partnerships and finding other resources to supply organic produce to its customers.
“D’Arrigo has a tremendous amount of relationships already,” Eric explains to me, “and over the last 15 to 20 years, many conventional growers have gotten into organics in a big way because they realize it’s not just a fad. It’s here to stay. As the category keeps growing, I think it’s a great time for us to get involved. We’re going to look at what our customers need and help them build their programs as we grow our business—a mutually beneficial partnership with both new customers and the ones we’ve had for many years.”
These efforts to brand itself as a prime contender in the organic industry only emphasize the wholesaler’s admirable dedication to its retail and foodservice partners. Harnessing a century-long reputation in fresh produce, the company is continuing its transformation into a well-rounded, one-stop shop armed and ready to meet the needs of those it aligns with, whether those needs fall under conventional or organic.
“We’re a great ally to have because we’ve been around for 100 years. We’re experts in growing; we’re a family of farmers,” Gabriela points out, giving me a closer look at the lineage behind the D’Arrigo name. “We come from the supply-side, and we understand the labor that goes into it. We’ve also been on the wholesale and distribution side for a very long time, so we have a lot of experience in different segments of the industry. And, because we’ve been around for so long, we’ve established strong relationships with other experts in these fields.”
Only adding to D’Arrigo New York’s strength as an operation is the diverse expertise of each of the members who comprise this successful business. As Gabriela talks, I see the incredible family of farmers standing before me, some of which probably had only an inkling of an idea of what would happen once the company took flight.
“We’re the fourth generation to come into the company, at least on the New York side,” Gabriela points out. “Because we have that youth and that energy, if you will, in addition to a connection to new forms of technology, we look at things from a different perspective. And because there are so many of us, each of us can tackle one area and make it our own, which makes our ability to adapt to change easier than it is for a lot of other companies. I know everyone says it’s not good to have too many hands in the fire, but in this situation, it absolutely is. Each of us can handle our own different flame.”
Gabriela pauses for a moment, as if realizing the magnitude of this dynamic team herself, before she continues laying out a list of its infinite strengths.
“We all have different backgrounds. Some came from finance, logistics, or the growing side, and others came right out of school with a fresh pair of eyes, so we cover a lot of different bases,” Gabriela says. “Even if none of us have an idea, the ability to sit down and brainstorm, utilizing the generation above us and their experience with the industry, has been very transformative.”
The next point Gabriela makes strikes me. In a day and age where many feel compelled to build a brave facade for the sake of those around them, I find the sentiment both valiant and exemplary, as the company forges a rare level of trust and vulnerability—one I am convinced can only be found within an industry as raw and rich as fresh produce.
"We’re going to look at what our customers need and help them build their programs as we grow our business—a mutually beneficial partnership with both new customers and the ones we’ve
had for many years."
Eric Mitchnick, Director of Organics, D’Arrigo New York
“We don’t ever pretend to know something we don’t,” Gabriela explains, pausing to let me digest the statement. “If we don’t know what we’re talking about, we’re not going to fake it as if we do. We really lean on the relationships that stem over 40, 50, some 60 years with other companies. We lean on each other and say, ‘Okay, what are you doing? How can I help and be a peer?’ or ‘I don’t know about this, tell me about this. How can I make it better?’ We utilize those different relationships we’ve fostered, grown, and tended to for the
Suddenly, I have a deeper understanding of the magic that takes place at D’Arrigo New York, and I am swiftly reminded that this is not the company’s first metamorphosis.
For over 70 years, this unique division has transformed and transformed again, each time emerging from the cocoon with wings stronger than the last.