Twin River's Ben Escoe Discusses Growing into a National and International Berry Brand
HOOD RIVER, OR - We hear it so often because it’s true: the produce industry is one of relationships. For Twin River, it's safe to say that the growing brand, with a wide national and international network of small farms, has blossomed through a mutual love for growing, packing, and shipping berries.
I spoke with Ben Escoe, Managing Partner for Twin River South and Twin River Produce, to find out what sets the Twin River brand apart as the go-to for local and imported blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
"We are a grower-based company with a slogan of 'products from small farms.' We started out as growers and decided to form this company because we wanted to vertically integrate and represent growers more than the class of distributors that were available to us at the time," Ben tells me. "We focus on the source of all of our products—the farms—and help our growers through the process of optimizing the supply chain and improving harvest, soil health, and transportation needs. We try to keep the direct connection between the consumer and the grower; there can be a lot of noise in between, but we are really trying to bridge that gap."
One way Twin River is bridging that gap is by ensuring supply chain transparency to retailers and consumers. Twin River highlights where its fruit is grown on its packaging labels by featuring the outline of the state or country of origin.
Twin River is a product of a relationship formed between three different families that were united by one shared vision. Initially, the Escoe and Weijohn families owned and operated farms in Hood River, Oregon, and Wapato, Washington, respectively, and distributed to their local farmers markets and grocery stores. Eventually, in an effort to balance small-farm quality with rising demand for quantity, the two families decided to partner and created a business together. Shortly after, the Escoes invited Miguel Leonetti of Argentina to join their team and expanded Twin River’s small farm network to ensure year-round offerings. Together they created both Twin River Produce, a U.S.-based blueberry packer and shipper that consists of 14 farms in Oregon and Washington, and Twin River South, an importer and distributor of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries from Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Peru.
As part of its emphasis on local quality, Twin River participates in the Fair for Life program. Currently, 80 percent of its operations in the States and 50 percent abroad are organic, with many farms in the process of transitioning away from conventional. Twin River's focus on organics and the Fair for Life program ensures its operations are always adding to the environment. Core values such as high quality produce, keeping small farms alive, and “healthy soil produces healthy berries” drive its never-ending effort to leave behind better ground than when it started.
“We work with Fair for Life to promote imported products and because we believe that it is important to treat our farm labor the right way. All of our products from Argentina are Fair for Life certified, and we work with farms to implement policies, like better housing, break rooms, and facilities, to encourage a positive work environment,” Ben explains. “We believe that a high-quality product starts at the source, which is our plants and the team that take care of them. If we have happy soil and team members who care about what they’re doing, that will translate into a better product. Further, if we can continue those positive relationships throughout the entire supply chain, then we have truly accomplished our goals!”
Twin River offers blueberries year-round as well as raspberries and blackberries seasonally. Its raspberry program ships from November through June out of Mexico, and blackberries from June through October grown in the USA. Twin River is currently working to extend both programs to year-round availability.
“We quickly realized that in order to support farming communities around the world, we needed to have a presence in the market all year long,” Ben shares with me. “Therefore, we have extended from the Pacific Northwest and Argentina to California, Mexico, Peru, and Chile. We continue to look for opportunities to work with farmers in new regions and time-frames. Maintaining a presence all year with like-minded growers working together to deliver high-quality berries to our customers will help us embody our core values.”
Distributing across the United States from Washington, Los Angeles, Miami, and Philadelphia, small-focused Twin River is making a big splash.