Global Produce Sales Inc.: Finding Healthy Avenues for Growth

Running a business is no picnic, but if you’re running a picnic in the Southeast you’ve probably contributed to the business of Global Produce Sales Inc. (GPS), a produce supplier based out of Lake Wales, Fla. GPS is a family-owned and -operated company that has evolved over time and now specializes in growing, harvesting, packing and shipping watermelons in the region.

“We do have other partners now, but this company was started in 1983 by my father, the acting president, and his father,” explains Lee Wroten III, general manager of GPS and a third generation member of one of the company’s controlling families.

“When they started the company in the ‘80s, we were dealing primarily in citrus and only watermelons through the summer,” explains Wroten. “At that time we wouldn’t have watermelons past Labor Day, which worked out nicely for us because that was around the time that the citrus started coming in so it was a nice transition for the company. But then it just became too difficult to do well with citrus. You can only fight so many freezes and around that same time many of our watermelon customers started carrying them throughout the year, so it was a very natural progression for us, and today we deal almost exclusively in watermelons.”

Growing a Business That Deals in More Than Fresh Produce

GPS does grow many of its own watermelons, but a major part of the company’s recipe for success is its ability to grow strong relationships with the local suppliers. “We have some really long-standing relationships with our growers, some of which go back 15 or 20 years, and they will grow the crop specifically for us to harvest, pack and sell,” says Wroten.

“Like many other industries there is a certain amount of trust involved in that transaction, because you are dealing with a perishable item. If the market isn’t good, you can’t just hold on to your product until the market comes back because you won’t have a box of watermelons anymore, you’ll have a puddle of mush,” laughs Wroten. “You have to be able to do what you say you will do because there is plenty of opportunity out there.”

The company’s success is also a product of the employees’ hands-on experience with the product across the board. “We have very few employees here who have not actually worked in the field at some point. Many of us started out when we were just kids,” explains Wroten.

“I started in the fields when I was 15 because my dad decided I needed to learn how to work. Even today I still love it. What I love about this job is that I can always jump on a forklift and start loading up a semi truck. It doesn’t happen very often, but it is something that is quite different about our company that many of our employees started in the fields, and we just worked our way into packing and then into brokering and shipping. Combined, we have over 100 years experience so when we say we have hands on experience, we mean that very literally. We know what we’re talking about when we talk watermelons.”

Making Sure Delicious Produce is Also Safe

Being able to account for product from the fields to the store is a key component in today’s marketplace. One of the most prevalent developments within the food industry in the past few years has been the increasing importance of food safety and traceability. Events involving berries, leafy greens and cantaloupe being tainted with e coli or salmonella have put consumers on edge. Scientific studies have shown it is virtually impossible for these bacteria to actually attach and colonize the slick rind of a watermelon, but Wroten has been proactive in making sure GPS is vigilant in order to alleviate others anxiety.

“About six years ago we could feel it coming, that we would be required to do more traceability, food safety and third-party audits, so we signed up with Primus Labs, which we originally thought it would be a real pain, but it has actually helped us become more efficient,” he explains. “There is a lot of paperwork and documentation required, as well as training your employees and making sure your facilities are always clean, but it helps us run a better operation.

“We now have a really amazing traceability program where from the sticker on a watermelon we can trace that watermelon not just to the grower, but the actual field – and we can know everything we need to know about that watermelon, including who packed it, at which facility, how old it is, anything,” continues Wroten. “Not only does it help for food safety issues, but it also helps us if a customer ever has a complaint about the product they received.”

Continuing to build on the efficiency this move to traceability has facilitated, Wroten expects GPS to be making further upgrades to some of the in-house technologies. He explains:

“We have an in-house IT crew who not only wrote the software we use for our financing and accounting, but they are constantly looking to improve the software we use to track and monitor shipments, inventory, and coordinate delivery schedules. Sometimes we will ship 50 loads of watermelon in a day and you need to be able to know who has what, who is harvesting and the amount they expect to harvest at all times to be able to do business. Now that the forecasting happens on computers it has become a lot easier, but it seems like there’s always somewhere to improve.”

With an experienced, dedicated crew and a deservedly solid reputation in the produce industry, Global Produce Sales Inc. is equipped to deliver its flavorful product through increasingly juicy productivity means.