Amazon Produce Network LLC: Building Trusted, Transparent, Year-round Relationships

Amazon Produce Network LLC (Amazon) was officially founded in 2000, but the idea for a company that supplied mangoes year-round sprouted earlier from a class project for its founders’ graduate school programs. Business partners Gilmar Mello and Greg Golden paired up to develop a project that facilitated trade between Mello’s native Brazil and the United States. All it took was one mango grower in Brazil, and soon enough the pair positioned the small start-up to facilitate distribution to the United States with an emphasis on total transparency and maximizing the grower’s return.

Transparency has continued to define Amazon’s approach throughout the years, and it didn’t take long until the lone grower referred a friend and the company’s portfolio spanned multiple growing regions. “We jumped in early with extra help like digital photography and extra documentation and expense verification services to build trust very early on,” says Golden, co-founder of Amazon. “And the business grew because the growers were happy with our performance.”

Amazon’s head offices and warehousing facility is located in Mullica Hill, N.J., with a sister company and second warehousing facility, Amazon Product Network of California, in Los Angeles, Calif., to provide coast-to-coast distribution. Amazon’s product portfolio largely consists of mangoes, but the company also boasts pineapples from Costa Rica and green seedless grapes from Brazil.

The Extra Mile

“We picked up green grapes mostly because some of our growers were growing them right next to their mangoes, but it also helps us fill in gaps between growing seasons elsewhere in the world,” expands Golden. The grapes are only available during a small window from late October through early December, just as California comes off its grape harvesting season and just before Chile ramps up production.

The Amazon team remains as committed to its growers as it was in the company’s earliest days. The team continues to provide responsive, personable and knowledgeable service to develop year-round relationships with growers and clients alike. “Any company can ship a pallet of mangoes, but it is our incredibly qualified staff that makes the difference because we’re always working to get our growers the best possible returns,” says Golden.

Amazon directly coordinates logistics with each grower to arrange for the most cost-effective transportation and warehousing options possible for the company’s products. Additionally, Amazon’s in-house agro-technicians inspect every shipment upon arrival at either of the company’s warehouses. That’s when Amazon’s agro-technicians coordinate with the company’s sales team to ensure each shipment is placed, stored and shipped ideally to minimize product returns.

Continuous Improvement

The company’s team is so committed to eliminating all product returns that Amazon created an internship program with the help of a Brazilian agronomy university to facilitate continual feedback and internal improvements. The company currently has six interns at Amazon headquarters, and another two interns working at the Los Angeles outpost, each of whom hand-selected through an intensive interview and application process.

“We offer these interns an opportunity to supplement their field and classroom studies with experience in our product management team,” says Golden. “This is so they can better understand the underlying reason for any defects in the product and supply us with really quality feedback.”

But getting the best possible returns involves juggling a lot of variables as global market demand shifts, which is why Amazon sells to a broad range of processors and retailers. The company has recently expanded the teams’ focus to include club stores, like Sam’s Club and BJ’s, which often lock in season-long prices upfront to mitigate supply risk. “It’s tough to predict how the markets will shift, but we feel it’s in the best interest of our growers to commit a certain portion of their crop up front and stabilize that income,” says Golden.

For the Future’s Fruit

Amazon’s facilities also have the capacity to provide a variety of value-added services like re-palletization and repacking. The Amazon team is happy to work with clients to establish exactly how the product should be packed, stored and shipped in order to meet individual needs. In one case this loyalty meant Amazon’s staff repacked the industry standard of four-kilogram cartons into retail-ready, branded containers to be stacked on the supermarket floor. Amazon also provides crown-less pineapples for a food processing client so shipments could be easily loaded into the client’s production line upon arrival.

The team is always looking to go above and beyond. Amazon has even arranged for fruit to arrive naturally pre-ripened for a select few customers looking for ready-to-eat produce rather than exotic produce with the greatest shelf-life. “At the moment it’s still a very low-tech process,” Golden admits. “But we do have a few customers looking for produce at the ready-to-cut stage because they are focused on the eating quality of the fruit.”

The growth of the market segment could open the door for Golden and the Amazon team to invest in some additional technologies to aid in the process, but for the rest of 2012 Amazon will focus the team’s energies on existing infrastructure. The company recently invested in a brand new packaging line, complete with new conveyors, new tables and state-of-the-art equipment. Once the high mango season has waned, Amazon will begin expanding its cold storage at the company’s New Jersey location, which Golden estimates will accommodate an additional 22 container loads, roughly another 500 pallet positions.

The future looks bright for Amazon, as Golden has witnessed the mango industry grow every year since the company’s founding. Amazon will be finalizing work on a six-pack clamshell package of Ataulfo mangoes to hit the market in 2012, and additional product packaging formats could be next. No matter which additional capabilities the company adds to its portfolio, Amazon Produce Network LLC will be sure to grow operations in a complimentary way, ensuring growers and clients receive the best value possible.