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The Tip of the Spear: A Q&A With Lauren Brierly, Asparagus Sales Manager, Progressive Produce

The Tip of the Spear: A Q&A With Lauren Brierly, Asparagus Sales Manager, Progressive Produce

Change is inevitable, but growth is not. Growth takes a meticulous approach and, at times, a painstaking drive and diligence that puts such an actor smack-dab in the middle of risk without the promise of reward. But, isn’t that what makes the reward so sweet?

For companies like Progressive Produce, positioning a global stance as a year-round asparagus provider in an international marketplace as competitive as today’s is akin to setting off to sea and designing the map toward your destination as you go. But, with the right tools, experiences, intuition, and partnerships, the course ahead is also more fit than many to weather the storms and achieve great discoveries.

"Our asparagus is not only grown around the world at present, but consumed around the world as well."

Lauren Brierly, Asparagus Sales Manager, Progressive Produce

When your ethos around expansion is a constant drive to be better, do better, and share better—the waves ahead do not hide peril, they reveal opportunities.

With consumer buying behaviors turning their collective nod toward the asparagus category, Lauren Brierly, Asparagus Sales Manager for Progressive Produce, shares with me how the once seasonal and holiday-specific vegetable is no longer a fair-weather friend in produce departments, it is a sales driver that is here to stay.

You could almost consider asparagus one of those categories at the tip of the produce spear. Pun intended. For our industry, and the consumer palate at large, asparagus plays a vital role in bringing flavor, possibility, versatility, and originality to the plate, Lauren expresses, and so much more. Find out the Progressive Produce vision as Lauren points the way.

Jordan Okumura: Lauren, I see that Progressive Produce is quickly approaching the 15-year mark on its asparagus program. What an exciting time for retailers, foodservice operators, and the company. Can you share with me how the program was founded and what motivated Progressive to expand into this category?

Lauren Brierly, Asparagus Sales Manager, Progressive Produce: Our team at Progressive Produce and Keystone Fruit Marketing joined forces in 2008 to leverage our strengths with retailers across North America, along with our strong relationships with growers in Peru, Mexico, and the U.S. These resources allowed us to create an asparagus business which would generate value for the entire supply chain through partnership and performance. The Progressive Produce and Keystone Fruit Marketing partnership—both unique and special—was cemented even more in 2018, when our two companies formally merged all our businesses together.

Today, we carry forward our value-creating goal of year-round supply and logistics from the best growers in the world under our Progressive Farms branding; thus, creating a partnership for retail and foodservice customers that allows them to provide their consumers with high-quality asparagus grown from around the world 365 days per year.

JO: I love this meeting of the minds you speak of. I feel like it is more and more necessary these days to bring multiple perspectives to the table in order to open more doors for potential opportunities. Since the partnership, how has the program expanded in terms of growing regions, sourcing, varieties, and distribution footprint?

LB: Our partnerships have grown tremendously since inception. Today, we have Peruvian asparagus year-round, Mexican asparagus year-round, and we are the largest shipper of U.S.-grown asparagus. We have an asparagus portfolio that includes organics, white, purple, consumer bags, and customer-specific presentations.

Our asparagus is not only grown around the world at present but consumed around the world as well. One element which has not changed since the program’s inception is our drive to evolve our operational standards, capabilities, and buy-side relationships. Through this desire to be better, we continue to get bigger.

JO: With growth as a choice in this situation, and not just an inevitable outcome of change, how does Progressive Produce tailor and shape its asparagus program to meet the needs of retailers and foodservice operators?

LB: Easily, it is our best-in-class global supply, retail and foodservice marketing knowledge, national and regional logistics, and a partnership mentality.

We have asparagus from our two main shipping points in Miami, Florida, and Los Angeles, California, the entire year, and we ship from all major seasonal free on board (FOB) hubs. These ports of entry provide our customers with options for convenience or growing region pick-up locations for cost savings. We feel we have a viable asparagus solution for every customer’s needs. We strive to deliver these key things to our partners daily—our business is successful when those around us are successful.

JO: Demand and pricing seem to be at a premium these days. How has the demand for asparagus ramped up in recent years and what new insights into consumer buying patterns can you share?

LB: Asparagus is consumed by every age demographic, which positions it well with baby boomers heading into retirement as well as with Gen Z—a demographic which is increasingly prioritizing healthy eating with their wallets—and everyone in between.

Asparagus is no longer just a holiday or seasonal vegetable. We believe asparagus is more commonly planned for on shopping lists than years past, but it still has a great impact on a produce department as an impulse buy. Placing asparagus in a high-visibility location, even when not promoted, leads to impulse buys which creates repeat customers.

A newer trend is national interest and consistent consumer demand for organic asparagus. Five years ago, organics were very seasonal. While not yet year-round, we offer organics 11 months a year in our Nature’s Bounty Organics label, and that has translated to consumers knowing they can meal plan for it, raising awareness and driving consumption.

JO: How do timing and availability play a role in the advantages and benefits of the Progressive Produce asparagus program and how does the company differentiate from other asparagus programs in the marketplace?

LB: Our Progressive Produce family lives by our core values. One, in particular, has impacted our asparagus business greatly. “We do what we say we will do.” It may seem simple, but this action has proven difficult at times with a crop so prone to challenges that need to be overcome quite regularly. However, this value is a difference-maker for us and is how we continue to gain the confidence and loyalty of our growers, retailers, and foodservice partners. This core belief is a part of the excellent customer service our team delivers every day.

No matter where or what time of year it is, Progressive Produce—under Progressive Farms and Nature’s Bounty Asparagus—has a solution, and we are excited every day to make a difference.

This idea of asparagus holding real estate at the tip of the spear truly speaks to the category’s impact on the health of the globe, the dynamics on the plate, and the special place it holds in the hearts, taste buds, and yes, wallets, of consumers everywhere.

With such a triple threat in the toolkit of Progressive Produce, it is only inevitable that the demand for such premium supplier experiences will spread. 

The Tip of the Spear: A Q&A With Lauren Brierly, Asparagus Sales Manager, Progressive Produce