WEST COAST, U.S. - A call to action has been heard. While many industries and communities around the world are upside down, the fresh produce industry is rallying to help ensure retail partners’ shelves are as stocked as possible. One of those companies bringing support to this essential goal is the FreshSource team, an industry advocate that has temporarily switched up its offerings to assist its retail partners and the industry at large.
“This is our lifeblood; if we don’t get it out there, the bottleneck only gets worse,” Robert Thompson, Founder and CEO, tells me. In the midst of the emptying shelves and panic-buying, he went to vendors and got approval to spare employees to assist retail partners in need.
You might ask what this temporary switch-up entails. I certainly did.
“Anything they need,” Robert answers. “We got calls from executives at several major retailers, and I sent out a message to the team about how they need us. We told those retailers we will give you our team and just help. We are stacking potatoes, bananas, providing additional hands wherever we can because you can’t get product off the truck and onto shelves fast enough.”
Since Monday, March 16, FreshSource has had 34 merchandisers going to as many stores as they can hit a day to assist anyone from Albertsons/Safeway Co, to Sprouts, Save Mart, Raley’s, and Smart & Final, to name a few. Literally hundreds of locations.
“I’ve gotten emails from leadership all over thanking me and our team,” he says. But Robert also notes that he has mentioned to the retailers that who they should really thank are the principals that contract FreshSource's services. “They are saying ‘Yes, don’t worry about focusing on my product right now, help these stores.’ In produce, these are the kind of people we see. People who understand what kind of an impact this makes.”
Here are just a few of those principals that have made this possible:
- Taylor Farms / Earthbound Farm
- Bako Sweet
- Marzetti Dressing
- Veg Fresh / Good Life Organics
- Little Potato Company
- North Shore Living
- Ocean Mist Farms
- Bland Farms
- Duda Farms
- Sun Pacific
The difference is incredibly vast. While the product is flying off the shelves as soon as it can be stocked, Robert says he is receiving gratitude and positive feedback from all over the several states he and his team serve.
Director of Retail, Northern California, Jon Perez, has been one of those working in the stores supporting local retailers.
“As steps to secure against the spread of COVID-19 were rolled out, I had serious issues with my team being out in the field, merchandising stores as the numbers continued to rise of reported cases. I was frustrated that I could not guarantee the safety of my team, and more so the safety of my family. These feelings began to change on March 16, when I started to see how busy the stores were, along with an overall feeling of fear and anxiety from customers,” Jon shared of his experience.
Jon said customers have been coming up to him and those on his merchandising team to thank them for providing an essential service despite the risk of possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
“When I come across firefighters, nurses, and paramedics, I go the extra mile to make sure they have the freshest product and all the items they need. So, it came as a big shock when a Safeway produce clerk and myself were thanked by a Dublin County firefighter who said we were the ‘true’ heroes,” he reflected. “As a part of FreshSource, I have spearheaded many emergency relief efforts, such as the recent Napa, California, wildfires where I drove in fire-ravaged neighborhoods that looked more like war zones than the once prosperous communities of days before. It is a privilege to help people who are not as fortunate during this pandemic and, most of all, it is extremely humbling to provide any sense of relief or normalcy for people during these uncertain times.”
Robert emphasizes that the team is taking every precaution for safety, wearing face guards, gloves, and carrying hand-sanitizers with them to protect themselves, the retailers, and, of course, their customers.
“Traditionally, we are defined as brokers, but our model emphasizes merchandising and maximizing partnership, and the adversity of the COVID-19 crisis has shown us and who we work with what that means,” Robert imparts. “I can’t thank them and my team and our principals enough.”
As the proverb goes, a flower that blooms in adversity is the most beautiful, and this is our industry to its core. May we continue to rise and answer the call.