Founded by Ted Kaplan in 1994, Professional Produce has grown into a leading distributor of produce, shipping all throughout the United States. Located in Vernon, California, Professional Produce offers numerous types of food services to cater to its client’s specific needs.
A family tradition
Kaplan is a third-generation produce distributor. “I’ve been working in the produce business my entire life,” says Kaplan. “My family has been doing this in Los Angeles since 1908.” Kaplan’s grandmother, Dora, immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine at the age of nine and began working at various farms throughout the country. By 1965, Kaplan Fruit and Produce was one of the largest fresh produce distribution companies in Los Angeles.
Milt Kaplan, Dora’s son, followed in his mother’s footsteps by starting his own company called The Produce Place. While exemplifying the values that his mother practiced, Milt grew his company into one of the largest distributors of fresh produce.
Like his father before him, Kaplan grew up helping Dora at Kaplan Fruit and Produce and learning the industry. He also worked with his father’s company before traveling all over the world learning different farming techniques. The relationships that Kaplan established overseas have been a contributing factor to the success of Professional Produce.
Adapting to change
In such a competitive industry Professional Produce has discovered ways to stand out from the competition. “We’re one of the few companies that work seven days a week,” Kaplan explains. “We’ve also integrated from importing, exporting, growing and distributing from all over the world.” Kaplan points out that his biggest competition is one of his best friends. “We grew up together and we’re great friends. It works out fine though because there is plenty of business and everybody has something that they do better than anybody else.”
Through the success of the company, Kaplan says that the biggest challenge that his company faces is Mother Nature. “This is one of the only businesses in the world where you don’t really have any control over what happens,” says Kaplan. “Everybody has an idea of how they want things to run. From the retailer to the grocery store customer, we all have expectations of how things should look and taste and that all comes down to the weather.” The recent drought in California has taken its toll on many folks in the produce industry in the past year. “This is a very demanding industry to work in. If you want to be successful in this business it requires a lot of sacrifice.”
With 150 employees, Professional Produce works out of a 50,000-square-foot facility where the company packs and ships its own product. The company recently acquired a repack machine included in its 8,000-square-foot repack room. The machine is able to run various types of fruits and vegetables including various types of tomatoes and citrus in the process of sorting and packing for shipment. Three repacking crews work in rotation seven days a week to keep up with demand. “We provide our own bags and cartons for the product and also create labels for our clients,” says Kaplan. “We then ship it ourselves. We do a lot here.”
Professional Produces takes great pride in its food safety and logistics procedures. With a logistics coordinator on hand every day, drivers are allocated to specific drop-off and pick-up destinations. The fleet at Professional Produce consists of 17 trucks that run routes daily. The company also outsources over 40 trucks every day to ensure product is delivered and received in a timely manner.
“A major factor that separates us from everybody else is our food safety program,” says Kaplan. “We spent millions of dollars last year implementing new measures for food safety and investing in equipment to reconfigure our warehouse to provide the utmost safety and quality.” The company has received the highest ranking from the Safe Quality Food (SQF) Institute for the extent of safety the company reaches. “It’s just very important that your customers feel comfortable and safe with their produce.”
Kaplan says that the key to being successful in this industry is the ability to adapt to change. With constant changes and advances in technologies, any company must be vigilant in maintaining efficiency. “It’s an ever-changing world and there are new regulations every year,” says Kaplan. “We’re always looking to discover new ways of doing things and looking for people with fresh, new ideas.”
As the company moves forward, Professional Produce will continue to be a leader and an example in customer service as well as food quality and safety.