European fresh fruit and veg sector facing tumultuous period, says Freshfel

A Vow for Continuous Improvement

Sam D’Arrigo

This column from the United States first appeared in Produce Business magazine

To be a wholesaler in Boston, as far a major market from the big produce-production areas on the West coast as exists in the country, is to make one deeply sensitive to reefer trucking costs. Yet, this being so, I’ve had the good fortune to be part of a company founded not by me, nor my father, nor my grandfather, but, rather by my great-grandfather and great-uncle. After working through various entities for several years, they formally created what is now D’Arrigo Massachusetts back in 1923.

I wasn’t there, of course, but the lessons learned and passed through the generations lead me to realize this: Business is always filled with challenges, but we are very fortunate. If the trucks crossing this country are expensive, we look for product closer to home, on the East Coast or, maybe, further away, that we can import via sea, or we find new ways to use rail.

In any case, we are committed to serving our customers, to maintain our team and to working with our vendors. Indeed, with everything now computerized, sometimes I can look at the names and realize that a significant number of the grower-shippers we deal with today have worked with our company and my family for multiple generations, as have many of the customers we serve.

Of course, things have changed. For my great-grandfather, I suppose, cold chain management would have meant hoping the shippers did a good job of top-icing in the rail car. There were no organizations such as The California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements to define and ensure proper food safety practices in the production of produce. I wonder what Great-Grandpa would say if I could tell him that we are Global Food Safety Initiative certified!

What actually matters hasn’t changed though. Since the beginning, even without a formal system, our company and, in time, our sister organizations in New York and California, have always been focused on doing the right thing. We just didn’t know to call it “social responsibility” back then. We have always been committed to family farming and to sustaining the economic viability of the agricultural sector. As a family, and as a company, we’ve been committed to maintain and enrich the land and broader environment… to ensuring a better quality of life for us all.

We’ve always donated fresh produce to charity, but during this pandemic, the need was intense and we doubled up to help those in need. We also worked with long time customers to help them make it through such a difficult time and, now, as people return to restaurants, it is deeply satisfying to see longtime friends reviving their businesses and, once again, to see them serving the community.

As the youngest family member involved in our Massachusetts business, I’ve been fortunate to be able to learn from my father and uncles as well as my grandfather, Peter A. D’Arrigo. He recently passed, at the age of 93, but I was fortunate to have decades with him in which he guided me into a produce life as he told me about how he took over our family wholesale business after the death of my great-grandfather.

He taught me about building our company, but also about building the industry. He was instrumental in the formation of the New England Produce Center back in 1968. It is still the largest privately owned wholesale produce market in the United States.

I’ve been fortunate in being involved with more than the family I’ve grown up in. From the day I arrived at the company, I’ve been surrounded by an incredible ensemble of first class men and women who have shared their insights and experience to help make me a better executive… and a better person.

I’ve been very fortunate in my life, but now, as I gain experience, I’m focused on both doing my day-to-day job of trading produce and preparing for a future where my family can continue to serve our shippers and our customers while creating opportunities for our team and building a better world through sustainability and charity.

Oddly enough, with the pandemic, crazy trucking prices, the imperative of keeping our team safe and much more… when you’ve been around for a century, nothing is completely new. You learn to roll with the punches. When something is short, you figure out what is long. When people are in trouble, you figure out how to help. When systems don’t function properly, you figure out how to make things work.

Fortunately, I don’t have to figure it all out myself. I have a team, I have a family and I have a legacy. I was taught to focus on quality, on reliability and on the pride that comes with family ownership. My vow: I am going to take what I’ve been given and find a way to make it even better: for my family, for our team; for our suppliers, for our customers… and the produce industry as a whole. 



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