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Global Reach, Local Focus

Global Reach, Local Focus

Being in the presence of a company like Burnac Produce Limited is kinetic. It is akin to holding the world in your hands, like striking a match and watching the room come alive with possibilities. It’s like holding a treasure map and then being given the legend to read it.

Were I a topographer, the map of Burnac’s reach, focus, and capabilities would be expansive, strategic, and thoroughly unique. I would even go so far as to describe it as essential to navigating the fresh produce landscape, which rivals all industries in scale.

To put it simply, while many out there are considering building a global village, this Toronto, Canada-based company is doing it.

“We strive to offer limitless potential for our customers,” Lorne Burnett, Co-Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer, tells me before we begin this global trip around the world—the Burnac world. “Burnac does an enormous amount of due diligence at the category origins of all of our product offerings to understand each element of the value chain. Not just growing, but sustainable packaging, merchandising, innovation, research and development (R&D), global sourcing, and aligning what the consumer desires with what the field can create.”

Necessity has been the mother of invention for Burnac, whether we are referring to the new standards, challenges, and guidelines of a COVID-19 world, or simply a heightened global demand to rival and compete in an ever-changing, dynamic retail marketplace.

“Burnac has a global reach and endless drive to source the products in new markets that our customers want access to. We have a ‘whatever it takes’ philosophy backed by integrity, and we do not see roadblocks in challenges, only opportunities,” Domenic Raso, Co-Chief Executive Officer, reflects as if he is turning over the well-worn map in his hands. “Some companies see this as an attitude to strive for. We achieve it in practice.”

And Burnac truly is a company of action. As the operation looks to diversify its reach, it has brought together a team of stewards that oversee Burnac’s respective business units.

When I write that the breadth and depth of the people at Burnac are immeasurable, I am not being abstract. Entrepreneurial spirit and initiative alone keep a ceiling from Burnac’s reality.

With a ticket in hand on this global tour and a compass calibrated to Burnac as the North Star, we embark on such a journey, with the essential mapmakers honing the strategic point of Burnac Produce—its diverse, dedicated, and innovative Category Directors.

Global Heavy Hitters with Anthony Bisogno

Burnac is limitless as opposed to limited and/or landlocked—these words have become an echo that follows me as I sit down with each Director, beginning with Anthony Bisogno. The company thinks in terms of paradigms of products, not regions, allowing Burnac to bring new items to retailers from every corner of the world.

As the Director of Category Management across berries, melons, celery, asparagus, and specialty tropicals, Anthony has taken many a demand and a dare upon his shoulders. Such top-dollar categories bring in big wins within Canada’s thriving “ultra” multi-cultural demographic—especially when the beauty of such a complex audience means some of the items he finds in other parts of the world that are strange to many are what truly represent home for his consumers.

“While my area of expertise is in the procurement of fresh berries, the breadth of my category management has grown since my time with Burnac. With 15 years of experience in the category, and, having traveled the globe, I have seen perhaps every possible scenario—good and bad—which enables us to pivot like few others can to insulate our customers from the ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ such a volatile category can present,” Anthony shares with me.

In Burnac’s quest to satisfy every customer, the company has found the need to source foods from new global opportunities and wellness trends.

“Because, as they say, nothing tastes like home. Just ask a Spaniard about Piel de Sapo or a Brazilian about Cherimoya!” Anthony laughs.

Such drive and desire are only mirrored by an unwavering passion to keep Burnac’s value proposition unique and diverse. Part of this balance plays out across all of Burnac’s category strongholds in its conventional and organic offerings.

“Many of our conventional customers represent the biggest growth opportunity in our organic business, as they use their footprint, customer relationships, delivery mechanisms, and good names to expand in this market segment,” Anthony reveals. “By offering them the same consistency in quality and supply as they have come to expect from our conventional programs, we can ‘grow organically’ together.”

"We strive to offer limitless potential for our customers. Burnac does an enormous amount of due diligence at the category origins of all of our programs to understand each element of the value chain."

Lorne Burnett, Co-Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Burnac Produce Limited

Essentially, when you get a conventional partnership, you get a foothold in the organic market as well.

This alignment that Anthony speaks of is an unmistakable tenet of the Burnac way and helps the Directors break through walls and barriers as the map demands.

“We never give up! Drawing on the depth of our experience and our global partnerships, we always grind out a win, even when faced with the challenge of supplying items thought impossible to attain,” Anthony reflects.

This desire to rally against the grain and what is possible is something that resonates with Burnac’s grower partners as well. As Sandra Carrasco, Sales Executive for America, Grupo Athos shares with me, the feeling, faith, and trust required and shared are mutually beneficial.

“Provincial Fruit and Burnac Produce Teams have become a very important business partner with whom we have been developing the retail and wholesale channels for our blueberries, Black Mission figs, pomegranates, and Barhi dates,” Sandra says. “We are proud to have such a thorough and reliable partner that has demonstrated its care, especially during this difficult period we are all going through.”

On the berry front, Burnac works with a host of berry growers that reciprocate the same passion—like that of Well•Pict.

“The relationship with our trading partners at Burnac has exceeded our expectations; they are people of integrity, well-informed, and quick to act in this dynamic industry of ours,” Well•Pict Vice President of Sales and Marketing Dan Crowley shares with me.

Toppling the notion that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, Burnac helps its customers get to the global table where the best of meals is served: endless possibilities.

Challenging the Industry Folklore with Jacques Lavergne

With such an expansive reach, promise, and world view, Burnac has found that scaling growth in a healthy, yet progressive, way has allowed its outfit to achieve what many consider unthinkable, and what few dare to do in a lifetime: cast a global net.

“During the last decade, Burnac has challenged the industry folklore in search of a better way to supply fresh produce in the Canadian marketplace to maximize our value proposition,” Jacques Lavergne, Managing Director at Rite-Pak Produce—a Burnac company—reveals to me as we take off on a 40,000-foot view initiated to help wrap my head around the immense impact that the company has had locally, nationally, and globally. “To help achieve this vision, a new organizational design was conceived and implemented to encourage and foster a greater R&D focus unbounded by restrictive geography in order to become better strategic sourcing partners for our customers.”

I must take a beat here and note that it is, in my experience, rare for a company in the fresh produce industry to know itself so well—to be so deeply engaged in every nut, bolt, and wrench of the business. It is this strength, though, that has allowed the strategies laid out on the page to become three-dimensional structures.

“The executive team worked diligently over these past ten years creating an exciting culture leveraging Burnac’s long and successful history, clearly articulating its shared values across the organization. Through the implementation of an internal category management development program, it is allowing us to expand and provide new talent the opportunity to grow into their roles faster while encouraging outside-the-box thinking, leading to entrepreneurship,” Jacques shares.

It is this limitless mindset that has motivated and allowed the dry vegetable, kiwi, and chestnut category captain and Director to align his vision with the Burnac philosophy.

With every Director encompassing both an onshore and offshore component, Jacques’ unit is also a nod to Burnac’s vision for a global network of resources and solutions.

“For many customers’ and competitors’ vegetable programs, the long-standing and traditional sources of supply remains the U.S., while some other vegetables are sourced from Western Mexico,” he says.

By diversifying growing origins, traditional means of sourcing have become antiquated.

As an example—and in the case of one specific commodity—the U.S. was the main source of supply. Burnac expanded the sourcing of this commodity to include growers in Central and Western Mexico as the development of alternatives became critical with the impact of climate change. In addition, if all these regions fail, Burnac has developed alternative sources in North/Central Africa amongst other geographic areas. Also, quickly switching sourcing regions without interruption of supply caused by uncontrollable events—such as Hurricane Eta’s devastating impact on Florida’s vegetable production and recent freeze damage in Texas—also provides a boon to Burnac’s value proposition.

Each part speaks to the whole, as Jacques reminds me.

“Similarly, for other commodities, we have developed production alternatives in the Dominican Republic and Central America,” Jacques responds. “In the case of each dry vegetable sub-category, we have developed alternative sources of supply within and outside of North America, providing us with the ability and confidence in offering a global solution while helping customers manage their supply risks. The anticipation and visualization of sourcing changes that may be required in the future cannot be left to a later date. It is the responsibility of each Burnac Director to identify the risks and formulate the solutions well in advance.”

And multi-origin sourcing is only the beginning. Within the folds of the Burnac family, fresh and efficient capabilities and advantages flourish. From mobilizing resources to achieving the stated goal and objectives established for each commodity, Burnac manages to channel a fanatical passion about the quality of the products it sources and the services the team provides.

When the going gets tough, as Jacques tells me, the team lines up behind a common ideology: Remain calm and find a different route. To drive home the vision with an analogy from the Vice President of Finance: Burnac is a speed boat versus the Titanic.

In other words: Be more nimble, faster, and lighter than competitors.

From comprehensive planning models combined with JIT logistics to assuming the role of risk managers for Burnac’s larger customers and accepting the supply and economic risks potentially associated with supply interruptions, Burnac’s inclusive business model offers customers an exclusive range of benefits. Offering multiple packaging options including shelf-life extension options and providing its growers with technical know-how, financial assistance, and qualified personnel to set up or address a program when quality issues surface—these elements are only a handful of the many qualities that set Burnac apart.

“We all get up each day with a high level of commitment to quality and dedicated service,” Jacques notes.

The statement is simple, sure, but the execution is as dynamic as they come.

Living By A Courageous Mandate with Doreen Ng

A word like dynamic only begins to scratch the surface of a company like Burnac, but perfectly explains two key categories that drive sales in the produce department and fuels the passion and dedication of industry veteran Doreen Ng.

As Senior Director of Fruit Programs, Doreen’s role is wide-ranging, but she is intimately involved with grapes and cherries across conventional and organic growing regions.

“We at Burnac structure our conventional procurement together with organic for a very specific reason: complete visibility,” Doreen shares with me. “Given our five to six months of cold Canadian climate, we virtually import fruit and produce year-round, but our first priority is to our Canadian local growers from the East to the West Coast, with cherries, blueberries, stonefruit, and vegetables.”

Caring for so many front-running categories begs the question: How does Doreen sleep at night? Yet, she does—all thanks to the key to Burnac’s business: Sustainable relationships built on strong support and trust with customers and, especially, with Burnac’s growers.

"We never give up! Drawing on the depth of our experience and our global partnerships, we always grind out a win, even when faced with the challenge of supplying items thought impossible to attain."

Anthony Bisogno, Director of Category Management, Burnac Produce Limited

“We have established ‘ears to the ground’ personnel at origin to provide market intel, especially vital given the COVID-19 pandemic, to watch out for what Mother Nature brings—like the rains in India, Chile, and South Africa earlier this year—in order to be resilient and proactive,” she shares with me.

With a motto that insists on adaptability—“change is constant”—I can’t impress enough how this team collaborates with each other and leads by example.

“We always need to work with many pokers in the fire—globally—and be able to react effectively. This is where solid and trusted relationships are vital in order to secure product on short notice,” Doreen reflects. “As it is our mandate, we embrace the ideal—with a keen global sense—to have produce available 12 months of the year, with new and proven species or varietals; and be first to market, and with a keen focus on developing eco-friendly packaging.”

That is a heck of a tall order for anyone, let alone a company with so many moving parts, while navigating local, regional, national, and international markets and politics.

“This is what makes Burnac so compelling. Integrated with our full-service operation, we can deliver as little as one pallet direct to any retail store, large or small, within a 300-kilometer (190 mile) radius. Our ‘deliver-fresh-produce 24/7’ mechanism is in place to accommodate same-day shorts,” Doreen tells me.

Work ethically, honestly, with trust and respect—this is what Doreen leaves me with as we look to the horizon line, and it is more than enough.

Risk Takers and Dream Makers with Christian Janzso

I find my conversations keep circling back to the topic of relationships, which is intimately tied to Burnac’s loyal customer, vendor, and grower base. Customers continue to come back to Burnac because of the quality of its products and the consistency of its offerings. Combined with the integrity, commitment, and professionalism the team emulates, Burnac continues to innovate with both passion and necessity.

“Differentiating Burnac’s category management philosophy is a key aspect of our business model. Additionally, we did not design each detail of this plan or develop each solution in a vacuum for our customers. We listen and respond to the constantly changing policies, supply chain needs, and new ideas of our partners to generate the most scalable and sustainable value in both the short- and long-term,” Christian Janzso shares with me. “On the supply-side, we value and treat our vendors with the utmost respect. In each pod, the managers and their respective suppliers are not only business partners, but, most of the time, they are good friends and are treated as our extended family. We are ultimately a representation of our suppliers, and our customers are a representation of us. With this model, we are driven to perform and succeed at every level, and it is, ultimately, the recipe to our success.”

As a Director of Category Management with an emphasis in salad and cooking vegetables, Christian constantly has his finger on the pulse of market movements, buying behaviors, and connecting some of the leading retailers of our day with the boots on the ground in produce operations around the world. Just to shake it up a bit and keep him even more on his toes, he also oversees tropicals.

“Historically, these categories were very much a ‘reactionary’ buying model, given the volatility tied to the respective items. By widening our scope of supply and leveraging our long-standing vendor relationships, we are able to provide a healthier, more planned model for our customers to latch onto,” Christian says.

The method by which Burnac has chosen to go to market in this category has also changed the way the industry does business.

“There have been many instances where we have identified a need to source product from new origins and have taken the first step—and risk—in developing the ground, operations, and relationships,” Christian reflects. “Take flying butter lettuce, Brussels sprouts, and cactus pears from all corners of the Earth—all of these were once a challenge to source. Now, they are normal lines of supply for many retailers.”

Within Burnac, each Category Director is essentially running a ‘business’ within the business, Christian adds.

“Each of us treats the ‘business’ as if it was our own. Each Manager works around the clock, and there really isn’t any off-time given that we are a 24/7 operation,” he notes. “I cannot think of another business that operates with the level of attention that we do. This is what gives our customers that sense of comfort that we will do whatever it takes to ensure seamless coverage for their business and, ultimately, their customers.”

Steering the ship of Burnac Produce is a team effort in so many respects, and I can’t help but feel a unique level of accomplishment and accountability radiating from the sea that this produce partner navigates.

Striving for Excellence with Marc-Antoine Robin

From the depths of such a rich, sweeping, and rolling sea, a thought surfaces for me. Even with a team as expansive as Burnac’s with a range of knowledge as wide-reaching as it is deep, you have to imagine that somewhere in the mix, a moving part gets left by the wayside.

But, Marc-Antoine Robin, Director of Category Management for Citrus, tells me that this notion is far from the case, and even further from an acceptable outcome.

“We strive to be meticulous and thorough, as well as connected and painstakingly accurate, and precise,” Marc-Antoine expresses. “In a world that is becoming increasingly smaller, we pride ourselves on sifting through the immense amount of offerings from all corners of the planet in order to pinpoint best-in-class partners with the products to focus on in pursuit of commercializing their offerings in the marketplace.”

Because there is not a second to be spared or squandered when it comes to delivering premium fresh produce, time is of the most precious of elements.

“Speed to market, even with sea transit times as long as five to six weeks, will remain a goal of ours for all of our offerings,” he says, driving home that unrivaled urgency that becomes a part of the industry’s marrow the longer you are in it.

Carrying a category like citrus under the team’s belt, Marc-Antoine knows what it is like to be under a microscope. His main focus is and will continue to be global citrus—whether it be onshore or offshore, as produce knows no political boundaries, and opportunities are plentiful.

"We always need to work with many pokers in the fire—globally—and be able to react effectively. This is where solid and trusted relationships are vital..."

Doreen Ng, Senior Director of Fruit Programs, Burnac Produce Limited

Burnac’s objective is to satiate the needs of its customers and make their desires a reality. This bottom line ripples through all aspects of the business model as the company strives to fulfill the need for differentiation, consistent high quality, excellence, and diversification. And, despite an enormous footprint, the company always finds ways to pivot, keeping its line of sight focused equally on both the ground beneath its feet and the horizon of potential.

“We strive to exceed customers’ expectations on a daily basis. That is what drives us. We are here to execute as flawlessly as possible and mitigate risks while allowing our customers to shine—no matter what,” he concludes.

When in uncharted waters—as 2020 provided us in multitudes—picking up Burnac’s map of resources and relationships has provided many with an invaluable set of directions and solutions. Choosing your own adventure evolves from a game of chance to a treasure hunt guiding the seafaring many to a wealth of immense opportunity, no matter the weather. And, at the end of every path laid with Burnac Produce is the reward of success, sustainable relationships, and a compass in which to locate points of leverage and growth.

Navigating the deepwater of today’s politics, climate, relationships, market, and consumer expectations can seem impossible with such scope, need, and demand. And it is not just any normal company that can traverse such waters—it takes a fleet.

It takes a North Star with a precisely calibrated compass rose.

It takes Burnac Produce.