"This vision of ours is in our DNA."
Robert Thompson reveals this to me, manifesting its multiple possibilities in the same instant as he speaks it into being.
"This vision is created by our origin, our values, and our mission for driving change—all led by a very rare group of individuals and beliefs that defy definition in many ways. Like us," he says, tracing FreshSource’s sequencing back to a single challenge that he turned into a vision for the future.
We live in interesting times, to say the least, creating an incubator primed for change—for revisiting and deepening our stories, our notions of who we are and what comes next.
Providing value: this is the proposition to which we hold true. It is also the code we are creating. It is what drives and motivates us. We are always looking to raise the bar in what we do and never to become complacent," Robert, Founder of FreshSource, tells me as we look back on the tumultuous but amazing year that has allowed space for the company to find itself even further.
The beauty of Robert’s vision is that, like DNA, it contains instructions that light a torch toward legacy to be passed from generation to generation. As Robert tells me, looking to next month is essential, sure, but looking down the line is the way to turn a vision for change into a movement. Into a complete reimagining and execution of the organism that is the fresh produce industry.
When Robert arrived on the scene in 2001, he noticed that traditional brokers were not providing the services essential for meeting retailers’ needs.
"FreshSource was created out of this necessity. Growers, shippers, and packers needed a sales and merchandising support company that would help execute sales plans at the store level. While other brokers would take meetings, they were not providing the necessary boots-on-the-ground focus required in that last 20 feet, which is critical at the store level where the support is needed most," Robert reflects.
This was the crossroads for him: Either he kept his head down and pushed in the same direction as everyone else, or he could step off the path and create another.
“We do not function in a closed system—we thrive in situations that keep us nimble and moving.”
Robert Thompson, Founder, FreshSource
Robert crafts his words and beliefs with so much intention that he slows time to this moment, allowing the periphery to take on new possibilities and opportunities that many cannot imagine. His perception is more expansive than most, taking in both the past and future simultaneously while he has his feet firmly planted in the DNA of today.
As drivers of innovation across products, packaging, ingredients, go-to-market ideation, and horizon building, FreshSource remains a crucial resource for principals, retailers, and products—promoting the ability to identify the fast-changing landscape as more than a one-size-fits-all business model. This grounding ideal is the tether from which Robert builds the cellular structure of a company whose DNA is always adapting.
"We get to choose how we do business every day. The depth of relationships from leadership to those on the frontlines interacting with the consumer is the glue that keeps us together in times of market turmoil. These relationships are also the fuel that drive growth forward. We do not function in a closed system—we thrive in situations that keep us nimble and moving," Robert adds.
This ability of Robert’s to hold the attention of the industry is rooted in so much more than just his vision, like where he has come from.
Robert cut his teeth as a Regional Manager for Del Monte Fresh. He then left in 2001 to found FreshSource, starting out with one client, Foxy, in those initial days, and was responsible for sales management and hiring and managing the broker network for Foxy. Robert soon became frustrated with having to continuously hire and replace brokers because of their inability to execute his vision. This frustration and desire for a full-service support company are what prompted Robert to start FreshSource.
It is hard to get Robert to identify these critical moments that challenged his values and motivations because he doesn’t see them as such, but as entry points for change instead. Semantics at play, if you will. But, he willingly does it anyway, allowing me to weave the strands of this new organism that Robert imagines. He is one of those elite and passionate people who sees barriers and definitions as hurdles to overcome—but never impossibilities.
"Although we are classified as a broker, FreshSource prefers to be known as a sales and merchandising support company," Robert says. "We pride ourselves on being an extension of the brands we represent and to always say yes to our retail partners. We are a ‘say yes’ company," he shares. "Our retail partners continue to need added support at the store level to help with execution, and our brands require our expertise to help guide them. Our merchandising team assists to accomplish numerous tasks in-store, such as resets, new item launches, merchandising placement, and closing voids, to name a small handful of activities."
“We pride ourselves on being an extension of the brands we represent and to always say yes to our retail partners. We are a ‘say yes’ company.”
Inside this living, breathing program that is constantly in flux, and by design at that, FreshSource also offers a great deal of in-house support, with new item set-up, promotional support, data analysis, and more.
"When I speak of that unique and much-needed diversity of vision, I speak of the DNA of our personal experiences as well. We have strategically hired retailers to assist us in building our retail support model," Robert tells me.
This strategic vision includes Chad Miller, who brings more than 17 years of retailer experience in roles like Vice President of Produce Procurement for Sprouts Farmers Markets, and Scot Olson, who taps over 31 years of buy-side grit in leadership positions like Vice President of Produce and Floral at Grocery Outlet. Bringing about the perfection of a full trifecta is Mike Casazza, who has more than 25 years of executive experience in sales and marketing of tropical fruit, commodity vegetables, and all lines of value-added produce through retail, foodservice, club, and wholesale formats throughout North America. To bring together a force of nature means establishing that norms are meant to be broken and expectations exceeded.
"Just to give you an idea of our genealogy, we have more than 350 collective years of service and knowledge of sales on our team," Robert says, still very much in awe and humbled by the incredible team that has brought a new direction of support to the industry.
As Scot, President of the newly restructured North/Northwest Division of FreshSource, tells me, this vision of the company is keeping the team ultra-focused on what is important.
"Connecting the principals we represent to our valued retail partners and supporting all activities that help them increase sales and profits is what we strive for. Execution at store level is critical to all parties involved and so that is where we place a great deal of resources in order to achieve success for all. Mr. Robert Thompson leads this company with one basic rule. As Robert has shared, yes is always the right answer in relation to helping drive our principals’ business objectives and in support of our retail partners’ needs! This go-to business strategy Robert has as a core operating procedure has removed all hurdles and barriers for us to effectively perform our jobs."
This dynamic mix of retail backgrounds, progressive mindsets, and dedicated leaders is how FreshSource continues to defy expectations simply by pivoting them and adapting to the needs of the market. Looking downfield allows the team to proceed with an open mind where so many others are closed to it.
"Individually our values may seem obvious, but put them together and our team culture is born. The passion to develop relationships and collaborate with our retail partners and principals, who bring endless innovation and opportunity to enhance consumer engagement and experience, is at the foundation of our success at FreshSource," says Chad, Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer.
Plain and simple, FreshSource operates on the premise that to satisfy the needs of its brands and retail partners is to impact change across all standards in fresh produce. The ripple effect cannot be understated when leadership like FreshSource is under the lens of every microscope in the proverbial industry town.
"There are many voices that surface when you are trying to evoke change, but our mission remains the same: FreshSource is committed to building client relationships that strengthen retail and consumer confidence. Our goal is to provide sales and merchandising support to deliver value to all we represent," Natalie J. Machado, National Director of Marketing, shares with me. Natalie has her own family legacy in the industry and not one that she takes lightly, having tread her own path before her roots took to FreshSource’s vibrant and rich soil.
Growing up being part of the produce arena, Natalie watched her father, Steve Junqueiro, interact with other retailers, buyers, brokers, farmers, attending Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit—a dynamic that was always very exciting for her. With such a driven mindset, Natalie started at the company in 2013 and saw a need to market FreshSource and continue strengthening and building the brand. She became the National Director of Marketing in January 2017 and notes that it continues to remain her ongoing effort to ensure the team elevates and enhances its commitment and passion as a solution-driven sales and merchandising company.
Each storied veteran brings their own unique drive to the team. Those generating success for FreshSource would tell me that their strategies for execution are not rocket science. But, I do believe that the amount of detail and dedication they put into their roles and performance have the mark of science: a critical eye for detail—data-driven or empirical—and concrete testimony and solutions that answer the FreshSource hypothesis time and time again. The vision of a traditional broker will fall by the wayside as the demands of global demographics change.
“There are many voices that surface when you are trying to evoke change, but our mission remains the same: FreshSource is committed to building client relationships that strengthen
retail and consumer confidence.”
Natalie J. Machado, National Director of Marketing, FreshSource
"We continue to evolve and elevate our services and value proposition. In the end, an ongoing goal is to add value to a brand in helping them with relationships, expanding shelf space, providing relevant data and guidance, execute at the store level, or assist in any way with their goals and objectives. We are not out to build up a stable of brands without adding value to the brands we represent," Robert says.
The depth of FreshSource’s team knowledge, combined with its flexibility and nimble nature, gives the company the ability to support short- and long-term projects or goals and apply resources to support requests from those throughout the industry, regardless of the situation."It all comes back to that ability to say yes to anything and find a way to be agile in an increasingly competitive climate. Our goals are to bring the highest level of sales, merchandising, and retail support 24/7. This passion and commitment allows us to continue to grow and be focused on solutions, constantly refining those best practices to bring the very best products to the retailers and, ultimately, the consumer," Mike, President of the Southwest Division, reflects.
For a team that is committed to continuously investing in its business to grow the brands it represents while simultaneously providing great consumer experiences for retail partners, you wonder how they even have time to take a vision to execution. But, they achieve it despite the restraints of time and space.
"When you see the FreshSource brand, you know our services and values are the same. Our initial goal was not to be a national company. In today’s environment, we are continually being asked by our principals to expand into additional territories. It is exciting to see that the value and support FreshSource provides makes a difference for all involved, and we will keep growing to help our brands," Robert says.
Humble and hungry are the final words he offers, like a gift on the table, and they speak volumes. Those words might just be the DNA coding that maps out his future from beginning to beginning. Because, for FreshSource, there really is no end.