DeBruyn Produce Co.

As the ownership of DeBruyn Produce Co. has passed between generations of the DeBruyn family, the company has maintained integrity in its services, owner Margret DeBruyn says. “Each generation has built a very good reputation for the next to follow,” she says.

Based in Zeeland, Mich., DeBruyn Produce provides onions and other produce items to retail and wholesale clients in the United States and overseas. DeBruyn’s great-grandfather, David DeBruyn, founded the company in 1929, starting from a general store on Main Street in Zeeland.

Initially, the company specialized in onions because they were predominantly in Michigan, Margret DeBruyn says. However, as the company expanded, it diversified to carrots, celery, cucumbers and other commodities.

By 1934, DeBruyn Produce started its full-time operation as marketer of Michigan onions and other products. Eventually, the company became one of the first to make use of phone sales.

In the mid-1950s, under the leadership of DeBruyn’s grandfather, Robert DeBruyn Sr., the company branched out into the Southwest. When her father, Bob DeBruyn Jr., took over management of the company, Margret DeBruyn says DeBruyn Produce began importing and exporting products to other countries.

Today, under Margret DeBruyn’s leadership, the firm maintains relationships with growers in South America, Mexico and Central America, and has additional locations in Michigan, Arizona, Florida and Texas. Last year, the company enjoyed sales of more than $15 million.

Taking Leadership

Although Margret DeBruyn worked for DeBruyn Produce when she was in her 20s, she did not take leadership of the company until last year, after the death of her father. Before returning to DeBruyn Produce, she spent 15 years in the financial service industry with Merrill Lynch and USAA.

“I think in many ways, it was tougher in that world, being a businesswoman,” she says. She admits that she has found challenges in turning the company into a woman-owned business. “I think for some people, I was an unknown entity which caused uncertainty. However, in a short time, we have seen that change and I am excited about the business relationships we are building.

“I think people now have a better understanding for the experience and knowledge I brought to the company in sales, market analysis and management,” she says. “Still, in the transition from my father’s leadership to mine, we have developed a different client base.”

DeBruyn has developed relationships with other new firms and retail clients which she thinks will better position them for expansion. “Our sales team enjoys the day-to-day sales,” she says. “At the same time, we would like to begin adding a few more contract deals and increase our presence in some different market areas.”

Additionally, as she has led the firm, DeBruyn has strived to maintain the company’s reputation for strong service and integrity, which her father also upheld. “My father was always known as a kind and fair man, [who was] honest and straightforward,” she says. “I will continue in that manner.”

To continue this legacy, DeBruyn has continued nurturing strong relationships with customers and vendors. “I feel truly blessed to have the support that I experienced this year from our growers, vendors and customers,” she says. “I am well aware of the gift they have given me by staying faithful to the company in this transition. In return, it is important to me that I [return] the favor by building the next generation of respectable business ventures.

“Our growers, vendors and customers make it fun to do business and I hope that only continues to grow.”

An Exciting Future

DeBruyn says she is excited for the company’s future, and she anticipates more growth in 2011. “I think there are a lot of opportunities out there for us,” she says. “I’m going to be making some changes in certain parts of the country to support that growth.

“I’d like to see us developing a stronger stance in our Florida operation through our packing and storage warehouse with utilizing our repacking capabilities and with tropicals. Also, in our Texas operation, I would like to expand our involvement by [exploring] different commodities, as well,” she says.