Since 1881, Gentile Bros. has earned its reputation as a leading regional ripener of tomatoes and bananas. Today, however, the company’s capabilities reach much further, and Gentile Bros. distributes a variety of produce to clients in a myriad of packaging and grading options to cater to the ever-changing demands of the consumer.
“Our core competency is still ripening of tomatoes and bananas, but now we’re ripening avocados, honeydews, pears and expanding into other items,” says President Jeff Oaks, who purchased the company in April 2012 after serving as vice president of sales for Gentile Bros. until 2004.
Gentile Bros. specializes in customized solutions for its clients. Along with the ripening and processing of its produce, the company also offers automated processing lines that allow the company to wash, sort, pack and label tomatoes to exact specifications. Custom packing lines allow the company to produce breaks and case packs to meet any need, as well.
The company distributes its products within a 500-mile radius of its facility in Cincinnati. Gentile Bros.’s customer base is a mix of retail and foodservice clients as well as processors.
Locally Grown Revenues
These days, consumers are demanding as many locally grown products as possible. Although Gentile Bros. always has had its own locally grown program, Oaks says the company has expanded this program considerably in the past two years to cater to the growing demand.
“We’ve always had a locally grown program, but last year, we took it to a different level,” Oaks says. “And in 2013, we continue to refine the program based on the previous year’s leanings”
For instance, Oaks says Gentile Bros. hired two sales executives with more than 30 years apiece in the produce industry. Doug and Mark Caminiti now serve as expert buyers and sales representatives by leveraging their strong ties with growers throughout the Midwest and Southeast.
“We partner up with the farms and utilize the resources of our 25 forced-air coolers to facilitate the supply chain,” Oaks says. “This allows us to bring products in from local growers to cool products quicker, which is a nice feature of the warehouse. Bringing on Doug and Mark has taken our locally grown program even further.”
These relationships with farmers and growers are key to the success of Gentile Bros., according to Paul Alphonse, vice president of sales, for both the producer and Gentile Bros. itself. For example, Gentile Bros. has formed a strategic partnership with a farmer in Ohio that has the company guiding him through the process of growing the items the company needs. This entails showing packaging options as well as ensuring the farmer is following Gentile Bros.’s strict good agricultural practices.
“A big part of it is building a good relationship with farmers,” Alphonse adds. “They are experts at farming, but not always experts at the business side of the business.”
Defining ‘Locally Grown’
One challenge in today’s industry is adhering to the strict regulations one must follow when claiming to have “locally grown” produce. Alphonse says “customers may have different rules that apply to their definition of locally grown so it is important to make sure that supply chain is in alignment.”
“Trying to match up locally grown farmers to these customers is a challenge,” Alphonse says. “We sync and time up the supply chain so our customers can focus on delighting their consumers”
Gentile Bros. aims to match these farmers with consumers demanding locally grown produce. The company will work closely with farmers to make sure their operations are set up properly because many of the details within a supply chain can go awry, according to Alphonse, and subsequently bring the locally grown designation into question.
Also, Gentile Bros. works with farmers to establish what to grow. For example, Gentile Bros.’s tomato supplier grows beautiful, large vine ripe tomatoes that are in high demand, but today’s consumers also want other varieties.
Gentile Bros. worked with the farmer to produce a grape-cherry tomato medley to complement his jumbo red tomatoes. “Consumers love the traditional red grape-cherry tomatoes but when you throw in the beautiful mix of yellow and orange the package just jumps off the shelf,” Oaks says. “Each variety has a different taste and the combination of flavors is awesome in any salad.”
Whether it is through locally grown produce or customized solutions, Oaks says he has a vision to grow Gentile Bros.’s sales dramatically.
“How we’re going to get there is by defining our value equation,” Oaks says. “We’re always looking to improve on quality, variety and make sure our customer service is the best in the industry.
“We’re also working to develop strategic alignment with our key suppliers,” Oaks continues. “It’s important to make sure we’re all working towards the same goals, which is ultimately to deliver the consumer the freshest product and finest quality.”