What do we mean when we say expert?
Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject.” At first glance, this feels like an authentic take. But when I step back and consider the context of our industry—in which we are both the constant teacher and the constant student—I realize that the kinetic energy of ‘expert’ as an adjective is more apt: “Having, involving, or displaying special skill or knowledge derived from training or experience.”
The difference is subtle, but crucial.
"Our foundation as a grower/packer/shipper certainly contributed to our expertise in the value-added sector."
-Lara Grossman, Marketing Manager, Ippolito International
The former suggests that one inherits their expertise—tethered to a singular view of their craft. The latter, which is closely aligned with Ippolito International’s value proposition, asserts that expertise can only be acquired through practice.
In other words, expertise is best earned by taking a risk with the first attempt, and then continuing to practice.
One could even say that it’s less about the end result, at least in the very beginning. It’s more about the simple, repetitive actions that might, over time, produce a consistent result. An expert golf swing, for example, takes years of practice. And even with the perfect swing, there’s always a sand trap or two lying in wait. It’s all a gamble. The only thing to do is to focus on your own practice, as consistently as you know how.
“Our foundation as a grower/packer/shipper has certainly contributed to our expertise in the value-added sector,” says Lara Grossman, Marketing Manager. “Many years ago, we were singularly focused as a Brussels sprouts grower. The expertise gained in those early years positioned us to expand into other vegetable categories.”
A few years ago, the grower broke into the value-added sector, giving birth to a new era of non-stop expansion across Ippolito’s operations. An uptick in consumer demand for Brussels sprouts coincided with Ippolito’s adventure into value-added. The category continues to grow across retail and foodservice segments. Today, Ippolito is a very energized, expanding, vertically integrated company.
With a culture that might be considered somewhat “old school,” Ippolito prides itself on being constant communicators.
“We are very tight with our production and harvest crews, and any one of us could probably give a fairly decent crop report on demand! So there’s a pretty strong brain trust here. When it comes to our customers, we try and keep them updated as well,” Lara continues.
With significant practice under its belt, the team has now been able to pivot its products to new formats, such as the 1 lb and 2 lb netted bags of Brussels sprouts, which are unique to the market and two of Ippolito’s best-selling offerings.
I want to pause here to highlight an area in which Ippolito seems to be able to successfully steer: supply chain relationships.
From the field to the packing line, all the way to the shelf, Ippolito’s umbrella of expertise permeates across both supply- and buy-sides. When it comes to controlling the flow of product to the fresh field-pack program, the company is able to manage the business strategically in terms of what it puts into the carton versus what it processes at the plant.
“At the end of the day, our primary goal is to keep our word with our customers. It is a challenge, as it is for anybody in this business! I would say that overall, we are cautious optimists who want to over-deliver,” Lara tells me. “This is what drives us—keeping our customers in a good place with supply and quality.”
Fundamental to the success of Ippolito’s operations is having a very close-knit company, as Lara explains. Led by a handful of adept managers, everyone who works for the supplier puts this expert mindset into practice, and every team is in constant communication with each other. Success is embedded in the very nature of Ippolito’s team, as Lara explains that even some of the most tenured employees have been surprised by the company’s strong growth.
“Our growth has been very rapid, and much of that can be attributed to our steady focus and energetic culture,” Lara adds. “Because of this, I think we’re going to continue to perform in the value-added space. The most important thing for us will be to evaluate opportunities and make sure, again, that we can deliver. We want to ensure that we’re good at what we do before we expand too aggressively.”
What is expertise if not the ability to know when to pull back and when to charge ahead?
I am enthralled by Ippolito’s selectiveness in the value-added category. And to tell you the truth, I think the term “value-adding” is more accurate, as no practice ever remains finished for this supplier.
The sector has grown exponentially in recent years, which has opened up endless opportunities for innovation. Ippolito recognizes this and has been strategically precise in how it positions itself in the value-added category.
“We consider ourselves a leader in the Brussels sprouts category as we are one of the largest suppliers in North America. Up and down within this category, we are everywhere in the produce section. We offer washed, trimmed, and halved Brussels sprouts, as well as one of our newer items, Brussels sprouts leaves. Around the holidays, we also sell Brussels sprouts that are still on the stalk, which is incredibly unique. We even have a microwaveable bag pack—and these examples only cover our Brussels sprouts segment,” Lara says assuredly. “We still grow the main produce categories: leafy lettuces, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, artichokes, etc.”
“At the end of the day, our primary objective is to keep our word with our customers.”
This aggressive expansion into value-added has not only brought Ippolito into the limelight; it has been a boon for buyers, too. The company has adopted a new presence in the eyes of its customers, serving as a one-stop veg shop.
Lara tells me that Ippolito has long had a loyal group of commodity-based customers, with which it has expanded its sales because of these new value-added items. As we know, growth begets growth, and where there is an expansion of sales, there will also be an influx of shoppers opening their wallets.
Moreover, company transparency remains at the forefront of consumer demands, and I would bet that the vertically integrated Ippolito brand will only continue to grow in popularity.
So, in the dictionary of Ippolito International, what does the word ‘expert’ mean?
Practice, practice, practice.