What do 30 years of progress look like? What do they taste like? How do you calculate and measure the ephemera in between? How do you assess such immense value?
These are the questions industry leaders ask themselves, whether they are achieving decades-long anniversaries or climbing toward century milestones. These journeys and inquiries are the material of great histories and the foundational elements for building amazing futures.
Luke Sears, President and Founder of LGS Specialty Sales, has discovered himself on such an adventure, having tilled the land for the trailblazer’s roots just over 30 years ago. Founded in 1990, LGS was cultivated from a desire to bring the world’s best-tasting citrus to U.S. shoppers, and that seed has grown into a three-decade-long vision to become one of the largest importers of clementines in the U.S while also sharing its product in the famous Darling Clementine® brand.
Now, bringing a variety of fruit to market from oranges, lemons, and specialty citrus to avocados, grapes, and persimmons, Luke attributes LGS’ success to the hardworking, dedicated employees, long-term innovative suppliers, and great retail partners that continue to elevate its standards for excellence. Not to mention performing at the highest levels of value and ingenuity.
Looking back as a way to honor the present is an amazing gift in and of itself. With summer upon us and the demand for strategic, skilled, and accomplished supplier partners even more necessary, Luke joins me to reflect on three decades of strength, distinction, and how LGS Specialty Sales honors its history by tapping into a summer of fresh.
Luke Sears, President and Founder, LGS Specialty Sales: LGS was born out of a love for fresh produce and a desire to bring the world’s freshest citrus to U.S. shoppers. This is deeply ingrained in everything that LGS does. We imported our first shipment of clementines from Spain in 1990, and one year later the Darling Clementine brand was formed.
I met Javier Arnal and Juan Arnal, his uncle, who came from a fourth-generational citrus family from Valencia, Spain. Together we pioneered the clementine business in the U.S. It started with just a few containers, and before I knew it, we were shipping full boatloads of Darling Clementines. Currently, Javier is our Director of Procurement for the Northern Hemisphere and is essential to not only LGS’ foundation, but to our current team today.
It’s incredible—while so much time has passed, it feels like only yesterday that we took our first steps as a company. I remember George H. W. Bush was the U.S. President, the New York Giants were about to beat the Bills and win the Super Bowl in 1991, and I was 33 years old, married for one year with no kids, and living in Manhattan, New York. There were no cell phones, computers were slow, and there was no e-mail, Slack, WhatsApp, text—you name it. I did have a fax machine though, and most orders were called in and handwritten. I had to wait 17 years to buy my first iPhone.
It was a different world then!
LS: As clementine demand and popularity increased over time, we adapted our sourcing and pioneered the development of clementines in the Southern Hemisphere. We did this by partnering with the best growers and importing best practices from Spain to ensure our retail customers had the best-tasting citrus year-round. This allowed us to grab opportunities like branching into other categories. LGS has been importing avocados since they were approved to come to the U.S. first from Chile, then from Mexico back in 1997, followed by Peru, and now Colombia.
“As clementine demand and popularity increased over time, we adapted our sourcing and pioneered the development of clementines in the Southern Hemisphere. We did this by partnering with the best growers and importing best practices from Spain to ensure our retail customers had the best-tasting citrus year-round.”
Luke Sears, President and Founder, LGS Specialty Sales
We have very strong relationships with our partners in each country, some going as far back as the beginning of our import program more than 20 years ago. Our team at LGS works very closely with each partner, visiting their fields regularly throughout each season to monitor crop condition and fruit quality, as well as ensuring our growing and safety standards are never compromised. In addition to Javier, we have our Southern Hemisphere Director of Procurement, Gonzalo Bertran. Gonzalo is a key employee in building our grower relationships abroad and has helped us as a company evolve and adapt to new sourcing strategies and new products over the past decade. Today, we are able to provide U.S. shoppers with not only fresh-tasting clementines and avocados year-round, but also supply Navels, Cara Cara oranges, lemons, minneolas, table grapes, and persimmons.
LS: There are three things that make LGS successful: hardworking and dedicated team members, long-term innovative suppliers, and great retail customers. Each of these relationships is symbiotic. One element does not thrive without the other, and that has truly put the “together” in the “we are all in this together” over the past 18-plus months. But, we have always felt this way.
We aim to be a leader that can provide value, resources, and solutions to the trade and the consumer. We accomplish this with an industry-wide reputation for innovation and excellence in produce, quality packaging, service, and food safety. Our goal is to share life’s sweetest moments with shoppers by providing the best-tasting fruit from all over the world.
LS: We’re so proud of our Darling Citrus line and the opportunity to supply our customers with the best citrus grown around the world. Our summer citrus growers have provided us with premium quality and volume for the season, and we’re excited about all the different citrus varieties we’re able to provide our customers. During the summer citrus season, LGS sources lemons, Navels, minneolas, mandarins, and Cara Cara oranges to the U.S. for our Darling Citrus line, along with clementines. Along with our citrus line, we are excited for our upcoming Peruvian avocado season along with pioneering avocado sourcing from Colombia.
“There are three things that make LGS successful: hardworking and dedicated team members, long-term innovative suppliers, and great retail customers.”
With the impact of the pandemic, the industry has faced challenges, of course. LGS strategized and enforced all safety rules and regulations in order to have an uninterrupted supply chain through these difficult times to ensure we were able to provide the highest quality, flavorful, fresh produce to consumers. We plan to hold to these strict standards as we always have, and we always will. Our customers have come to expect this commitment and our loyal consumers are loyal because of it.
LS: As shoppers have a heightened awareness of the nutritional value of the food they’re eating, we anticipate citrus sales to continue to be steady. Tapping into the vitamin C that citrus provides, we’re looking to educate shoppers and promote the nutritional value of our fruit.
We have noticed shoppers tend to shift to bagged items when making the purchasing decision, and as a result, we have strategized to offer more bagged items and source product to fit this need.
LS: This summer, we’ll be partnering with Brighter Bites to give back to the community. To support students over the summer who typically rely on school meals, we’ll be donating bags of Darling Citrus to Brighter Bites to distribute and educate students on the importance of consuming fresh produce.
Looking past the summer and toward the fall, LGS is also investing in its annual support of the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure. Our passion for the fruit runs deep, and we’re even more passionate about encouraging our community to care for their bodies through movement, nutritious food, and creating more balance through fresh produce consumption as well.
With the trials and tribulations of the past year and a half strengthening our resolve, a 30-year span seems the ideal swath of time in which to reflect and intuit LGS’ achievements and hurdles in all its perseverance and glory. As a love story goes, hurdles provide opportunities for growth and cohesion—so can be said about the LGS story and its passionate roots and resulting reach.
With a vision firmly planted, Luke and his team seem more driven than ever to peel back the layers of purpose and integrity—one citrus slice at a time.