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Lean on Me: A Q&A With Keith Mallett, Chief Operating Officer, Ippolito International

Lean on Me: A Q&A With Keith Mallett, Chief Operating Officer, Ippolito International

As an industry, we have faced hardships over the last few years that seemed insurmountable at times. But we came out the other end stronger and more resilient thanks to each other.

Through it all, we relied on each other for support, tapping into the connections forged by years of business, handshakes, and meaningful conversations.

Relationships are the bedrock of fresh produce as buyers, suppliers, and everyone along the supply chain lean on each other to fulfill our mission: deliver healthy, quality produce to the masses.

Now, we are more than halfway through 2023, and although new challenges have dawned, the community that has been tempered and strengthened throughout the years remains just as crucial as ever. Ippolito International is one grower that takes its supply-side partner role very seriously.

With an arsenal of vegetable programs to keep retail shelves stocked and foodservice menus fresh, the provider welcomes new partners with open arms and a plethora of products to meet buyers’ needs. Just take it from Keith Mallett, Chief Operating Officer, who sat down to shed light on the value the company places on internal and external support.

Jenna Plasterer: Fresh produce and the world in general have been through a lot over the past few years, but I know relationships remained an integral part of Ippolito’s business when it came to navigating challenges. What are you doing in 2023 to help your retail and foodservice partners succeed, and how has that inspired growth for Ippolito?

Keith Mallett, Chief Operating Officer, Ippolito International: Our growth has, in many ways, been led by the customer. We continue to ask our partners questions and let them lead us to opportunities. This allows us to grow both in terms of the products and packaging formats we offer.

By doing so, we are finding solid growth within the Brussels sprouts category and will continue to innovate within that space.

JP: As not only a trade writer but a consumer, I can see Brussels sprouts are definitely having their time in the sun right now. Can you tell me about Ippolito’s Brussels sprouts program?

KM: Ippolito International is North America’s largest Brussels sprouts grower, packer, and shipper, operating out of two California regions and five Mexico locations annually. We not only have a solid internal farming and harvesting operation, but we have built strong grower partnerships to provide customers with quality Brussels sprouts on a year-round basis.

Over time, we have evolved our product mix to service customers with various Brussels sprouts pack formats that include carton bulk packs as well as value-added offerings.

JP: Keith, the evolution of Brussels sprouts and their popularity has been pretty interesting. I remember a time when the category was dreaded by kids at the dinner table, but now they are on menus everywhere. What do you see in terms of demand?

KM: Demand for Brussels sprouts has increased substantially over the past 10–15 years. We experienced accelerated growth in all categories, ranging from retail and wholesale to foodservice and club stores.

As this demand continues to evolve, we plan to keep moving forward with innovation to fit our customers’ needs.

For instance, as households have gotten smaller, we are finding that the reseal feature is appreciated. This allows a consumer to choose whether to eat the entire contents of the package at once or save and keep it fresh for future use. Therefore, we created a 16 oz resealable Brussels sprouts package to fulfill this need.

“We not only have a solid internal farming and harvesting operation, but we have built strong grower partnerships to provide customers with quality Brussels sprouts on a year-round basis.”

Keith Mallett, Chief Operating Officer, Ippolito International

JP: It’s evident to me that your dedication to your partners is a significant differentiator for Ippolito in the Brussels sprouts category and beyond. What else makes this program stand out from the rest?

KM: One of our most significant points of differentiation is the locations of our production regions. By having successful growing programs in multiple different areas, we can offer our customers a more consistent supply and quality than others.

Another critical element is our diversification in customer base. With market penetration in the retail, foodservice, club, and wholesale sectors, we can cater to individual customer needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Our current Brussels sprouts program includes everything from wholes to halves to shreds and even Brussels sprouts leaves, which we pioneered and brought to the industry.

JP: On top of your Brussels sprouts program, what other products does Ippolito offer, and what opportunities do they provide for the company and its customers?

KM: Ippolito is a full-fledged Western vegetable shipper. We have established programs on all major commodities, as well as a full line of specialty items that make a stop at the Ippolito dock truly a “one-stop” opportunity.

For us, moving forward, the opportunities lie in our continued focus on commitment and relationships with our partners. The value we bring in terms of our offerings and customer service is what we believe will continue to drive us forward.

All of us who share the tie of fresh produce know the lifeblood of our industry is people and their bonds. Whether it’s ideas, words, or actions, whatever we face, we face together.

So, next time you need a partner in produce to lean on, Ippolito International will be waiting with an open heart and quality products to spare.