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Identifying an Edge: A Q&A with Amy Gates, President, Frontera

Identifying an Edge: A Q&A with Amy Gates, President, Frontera

Too often, nature and technology are depicted as opposing sides of an endless debate. But grassroots is not contrary to modern, just as cutting-edge can still be authentic. For Frontera, the stances are two sides of the same coin. They are not opposites, but equals in our changing world. And the company has undertaken a centrifugal renovation to balance the scales.

How do you define who you are in an image? This was the question Amy Gates, President, asked herself and her team when it became clear that the technological approach powering the operation was at odds with the brand on the wall.

Frontera, the team realized, had become more than produce.

Melissa De Leon Chavez: When we initially spoke of the brand revolution the company was undergoing, Amy, you specifically asked me to ensure I only wrote “Frontera.” Can you tell me more about that decision?

Amy Gates: That definitely sets the tone for what we want to achieve with our new brand, and the answer is: Why limit ourselves by saying Frontera Produce?

We are growers, but we are also much more. We’ve got a transportation wing, we leverage technology, and we pride ourselves on our compliance department. After I joined the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) Board back in 2008, I realized how crucial it was for us to get to the front of the food safety and traceability side, long before it was required. These are just a few of the aspects that make up who we are and what we provide. It’s not just produce, it’s a full-service offering, and by adding or taking away one word, a whole dynamic was being dropped from our brand.

Yes, we do a cross-section of commodities with diverse growing and sourcing options, but that is far from all that we do, and we wanted our messaging to match that exciting modern approach we bring in addition to the produce we provide.

MDC: Choosing to remove that one word makes even the smallest element seem like a huge decision. On that note, I am big into geometric shapes and would love to know more about how the hexagon you’ve incorporated on your website meets the tech-focused, ag-rooted approach of the new brand.

AG: This was a pattern Misty Ysasi, our Vice President of Operations, brought to me. In my mind, this design encompasses our message of both service and solutions. What sets Frontera apart is streamlining assets, one-on-one communication, and technology. It’s being able to be a compact business that increases volume because we’ve successfully leveraged technology to make sure that we and those we partner with are growing.

“We need people to challenge us, challenge our thought processes, and my team challenges each other to think about things in new ways.”

Amy Gates, President, Frontera

The hexagon gives a clean, edgy look that still presents the circular fashion of our business bringing all points together. That spirit carried through when Misty brought the concept to me and called it “the honeycomb,” immediately associating it with a hive and the work and growth that entails. Everybody invests a lot in the root system and the grassroots imagery, which of course makes sense. For us, the hexagon has a similar approach of interconnectedness with a technology spin, still a part of nature but in a more atomic system. We’ve had our hands in the ground for 25-plus years, which is a wonderful part of our core, but we also have our eyes on the future.

MDC: Can you tell me a bit more, Amy, about starting your produce career on the software side and how it has helped shape Frontera’s unique direction?

AG: I am living proof that anyone can appreciate and learn the value of technology. I found a passion for it because I love the ability to streamline without adding more dollars. It has become an instrumental piece of any business, my team included, and is an added aspect in the advantage of maximized resources. I was lucky to join Famous Software at the perfect time to get a solid crash course, building that foundation that I work from now.

Something to remember, too, is that technology is a continuing education. You have to want to keep learning. It is changing all the time. New problems are coming up, along with new solutions to solve them, and it doesn’t have to be at the cost of the human element—in fact, we have seen our human element strengthen. Nothing will take that away. The human spirit and integrity are things artificial intelligence isn’t going to mimic for you, but you can absolutely leverage it with a small, awesome team to propel your business and keep your overhead at bay.

MDC: On that note, “solutions” imply challenges. How does Frontera navigate issues presented in the industry, even helping to change the narrative of those issues?

AG: In all honesty, everyone in the produce industry has seen hardship, right? I don’t have to call out any single event; we all have one. I had mine and it took up five years of my life in the aftermath. It’s finding a way to merge these aspects that allow you to streamline your supply chain and offer savings, which is what we’re all in business for. I work to be an asset to my partners on the downstream side and on the upstream side, all the while trying to offer the best product that we can and making sure we have a number of backgrounds to bring ideas others might not have had. The diversity of my team, with various socioeconomic, academic, and other personal experiences, ensure every possibility is explored.

In the end, we’ve all had our share of challenges, and we have chosen to make sure some good arises from those. In that space, we find solutions.

MDC: I love the unique perspective that diversity is intertwined with your solutions-based approach. Could you share more about how that plays out?

AG: Actually, I would go even further than saying it’s intertwined—it’s integral to solutions. Frontera’s diversity, I think, is pretty unique and allows for a different thought process to enter the conversation, bringing lots of different elements to the table. I’m all about promoting from within, and I truly value a variety of opinions. I don’t want a room filled with people that think exactly the same way I do, because what good is that?

We need people to challenge us, challenge our thought processes, and my team challenges each other to think about things in new ways. That has really helped drive the dynamic of this servicing solution. I’ve got folks that come from all different backgrounds, with a spectrum of beliefs and vantage points. And my job is to make sure everybody knows they each have an equal voice at this company. Each person has to be able to present an idea or a concept, and understand those lines of communication openly. Everybody comes to the table with an equal seat.

MDC: A honeycomb-shaped table?

AG: Exactly. Everyone has a purpose in the company sitting at our honeycomb-shaped table.

“...We offer one-on-one communication. Frontera is not a complex with 19 Senior Vice Presidents of several divisions of an occupation. You’re talking to the owners and our key decision-makers.”

MDC: And that diversity is far from the only thing to make the company different. You say that Frontera is a one-size-fits-all approach. Can you elaborate on what that means?

AG: This goes back to what I have been working to define since becoming President: What category do we fall into? In addition to providing high-quality produce, we’re offering customers the same services that a huge corporation could offer, from ASN notifications, interacting with regard to invoice shipment, event ship notices, digital payments, food safety, and everything in between. Then, we offer one-on-one communication. Frontera is not a complex with 19 Senior Vice Presidents of several divisions of an occupation. You’re talking to the owners and our key decision-makers. So, that gives you that same level of real customer service that is the joy of working with a small team, coupled with the same solutions that a big multinational can provide. That’s where the tech piece comes in: Blockchain, PTI, and other such “innovations” are concepts often at the forefront of our business. That’s what sets us apart from any other grower/importer/shipper—anyone working with us is getting the best of both worlds.

As an industry of earth, it is natural for brands to focus on the roots that branch out to bring forth the fruits—and vegetables—of our labor. Not wanting to sever that focus, but look beyond it, has brought the Frontera brand, and the people behind it, to a different system—one even more atomic than agriculture.

The universe is made of fractal patterns, and these two images are not opposing sides of that design. They are echoes of it and of each other, intricately illustrating one core conviction: We are all connected.