Greetings from America! Prepare for ‘Produce Shark Tank’

Harris Cutler

The Dragons Den theme returns this year at the Fresh Careers Fair on March 8 at Kia Oval in London, where students and job seekers will have the opportunity to pitch themselves to produce, retail and foodservice experts. For more information, go to

Continued thanks to for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. My son, Joseph, told me today that I should write about Produce Shark Tank (that is, America’s version of Dragons’ Den). 

We are living in 2018. Every day we watch what Amazon, Facebook and others are doing to excel and become leaders in every space they enter. Unsuccessful ventures that involved millions are discarded in favor of new directions. We are watching every successful business trying new things and entering new areas of excellence.

Likewise, we too, in the produce Wholesale and Distributor communities, have to begin to dress ourselves up for greater success. Everyone is watching everything we do. We are being graded on service, quality, food safety, sustainability and value by every part of our business. Our supply chain is constantly watching to ascertain if we are the best to handle their products. Our logistic partners are wondering if they are better off going elsewhere to get higher rates. Our customers are wondering if we are overcharging and underserving. In a word, we are in a most competitive environment where “yesterday’s hero is today’s bum.” My dad loved that expression.

My grandfather, Philip G. Ball, got into the produce business in the late 1930s, just years after the greatest economic disaster of 1929 and during the Great Depression. When he opened up Ball Brokerage in 1944, the competition for his one-man produce business was beyond fierce. His morals, courage and honesty earned him a reputation and the beginnings of enough business to support himself. Just five years later, my father, Phil Cutler, joined his father-in-law. They became smart innovators and carefully strived to make the business worthy of the attention of their trading partners. They worked to eat.

Almost 70 years later with our fourth generation in place, the Philip G. Ball company continues to serve customers that have been with us since the beginning. Our distribution company, Race-West, has made great strides in taking the founder’s dreams, heart and love for work onto the field of honour, to ever-expanding places and product. We have suggested to many of our friends to bring in interns and unleash, not only their power and creativity, but place them with veterans that will inspire and be inspired by them.

We must look at each other and make sure everyone on our team has the necessary tools, and the ear of the bosses, to constantly answer the question, “Why should they do business with us?”

This leads us to today’s column. Are you preparing your team for Produce Shark Tank? Is your team constantly learning everything they can in the produce business? Are they really working, or are they putting in the time and getting away from the business as soon as possible? Do they come to work dressed for success? Winning in wholesale produce distribution means being always on the cutting-edge of the trends and techniques in produce that are working well. Is the team studying everything about the industry, at all levels?  

When we fully ponder what is happening, we should look at our industry, at other food and beverage industries; we should look at culinary; we should look at nutrition; we should look at exercise and dieting; we should look at the creativity of our team and of other teams. Most of all, we must look at each other and make sure everyone on our team has the necessary tools, and the ear of the bosses, to constantly answer the question, “Why should they do business with us?”

As we try to measure “who we are, where have we been, where are we going, and why?,” we have to imagine that we are on Shark Tank. We have to imagine we are presenting our company to business experts to find out if they would be interested in helping us and investing with us. Each person in every department, from the folks who clean (extremely important) to the folks who make and execute decisions and policy, has to self-evaluate with this question, “Am I the best person in this company for my position?” Furthermore, they have to ask, “Am I better than someone else that management could bring in for my position?”

Friends, if you need help or training, or re-training, ask for it. If you are burnt out, admit it and ask to move to a support position or take a leave of absence, paid or unpaid, and get yourself right.

Tomorrow, the Produce Shark Tank team is calling you in to meet about your future and the future of your company. Get ready for that meeting. It happens with every customer and supplier that you meet. They are the Produce Shark Tank. You have to get sharp, and be the sharpest you can be to succeed.

Oh, and if you are reading this and you are doing it all right, start helping others on your team, in your company, or in this wonderful industry. 

Harris Cutler is president and chief executive of Race-West Company, Philip G. Ball Co. and Sparky’s Transportation Corp., Clarks Summit, PA. He has been in the family produce business since 1972.



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