Connecting the dots. That’s what Kansas City-based C&C Produce envisioned when they began hosting a Harvest-to-Market event in 2013. The event connects Missouri growers to some of the company’s customers – including large retailers, public school districts and food service operators – that buy large amounts of produce. C&C Produce packages, sells and distributes Missouri-grown products across the state and surrounding region.
“We usually have around 300 people show up to the event. In two years, we went from doing $1.5 million in sales to doing more than $5 million, and we’re looking at doing $6 to $7 million in sales in 2015,” says Nick Conforti, vice president of business development for C&C Produce. “When you go from $1.5 million to hopefully $6.5 million – that’s $5 million of Missouri-grown produce that wasn’t being sold before. I certainly think that has an impact on the overall economy, and we’re just one company.”
Making The Right Connections
In partnership with the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s AgriMissouri program, companies like C&C help Missouri growers find new customers and expand their profit margins.
Our relationship with the Missouri Department of Agriculture has been great. They’ve done a fantastic job of bringing us on, seeing our potential and getting us to growers,” Conforti says. “Our growers must be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. The department has been instrumental in helping growers become certified.”
Planting Seeds For Success
Associated Wholesale Grocers, a retailer-owned cooperative in Kansas City, sources produce from all over the globe and provides it to more than 2,000 independent retailers in 24 states.
“Agriculture is our whole life in the produce department,” says Gary Myracle, executive director of produce for Associated Wholesale Grocers. “We work with local farmers throughout the state in season – in the northwest, in central Missouri and all the way down to the Bootheel. We bring in watermelons, squash, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn – any item we feel will be good quality products for our member stores.”
Conforti cites C&C’s ability to move large volumes and reach growers in rural areas as advantageous to growers.
“One of the things that makes us a good partner for Missouri agriculture is we have trucks in all areas of the state because we’re out there making deliveries,” he says. “And sometimes one of the most expensive things [for a buyer] is getting out to these rural communities to get the product picked up. But we might have a truck within 20 miles of a [rural] area because of our distribution range.”
Growing Stronger Everyday
Both companies agree that having a good relationship with Missouri growers is not only good for the agriculture industry, but also good for the companies’ bottom line.
“Our relationship is very good with Missouri growers,” Myracle says. “We visit their farms to see their product. We talk with them on a consistent basis in season, and we try to become partners. They know what products and quality we are looking for, so they will grow to those specifications. They also know that food safety is very important and critical to us, so they know what criteria they need to meet before they sell one box to Associated Wholesale Grocers.”
Conforti adds, “We want to keep selling and promoting Missouri-grown products. We want the industry to continue to grow, and we want to see these farms succeed and flourish.”