The Fresh Connection: Linking the World through Premium Produce and Trusted Partnerships

Hank Miller, founder and CEO of The Fresh Connection (TFC), always had the desire to be a farmer, but he never imagined the impact that he would have on the global produce industry. “I knew I wanted to be a famer from an early age,” recalls Miller. “I didn’t grow up in a farming family, though, and I knew I wanted to produce on a large scale.”

Miller’s aspirations lead him to attend one of the state’s most renowned agricultural schools, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, Calif. “I went on to earn my master’s degree in international business at Thunderbird University and I knew I wanted to somehow combine that with agriculture,” shares Miller. “I got my foot in the door at Paramount Export Company, a food buying and supplying company that’s been around for a long time, and began to learn the ins and outs of the industry.”

In 1994 Miller set out on his own to establish TFC, mixing his passion for international business with his knowledge of the produce industry. Over the years Miller has established TFC around a dedicated team of employees and trusted relationships with growers and customers alike.

Relationships that Span the Globe

“We have an incredible group of growers and customers,” explains Miller. “And our team has the depth of experience to precisely evaluate sources, markets and needs. I’m very proud of the longstanding, strong relationships we’ve built at every stage of this business.”

TFC sources the world over, providing the finest fresh-picked produce directly to international buyers. From the United States, TFC exports fresh fruits and vegetables to Asia, the Middle East, Europe, as well as both Central and South America. “We’re based in Lafayette, Calif., but we really cover global ground,” reveals Miller. “We work with growers here in the states, but have a network in more than 40 countries. We’ve diversified our business by exporting in multiple ways; 70 percent of our business is by ocean and 30 percent by air.”

TFC also has operations in South Africa and Chile, which support the company’s worldwide operations. “We employ about 30 individuals throughout our locations,” details Miller. “One of the biggest keys to TFC’s success is our incredible employees. About 70 percent of the staff has been with TFC for 10 years or more. My employees are really my most valuable asset.”

A Cut above the Rest

According to Miller, a talented team, a high service standard and grower-customer relationships are what truly set TFC apart from other produce exporters. “We really value service,” he stresses. “Everyone says that, but we do what we say we’re going to do. Our actions and our words match; it’s not often that you find that in this business.”

Miller also strives to pump out the freshest produce possible, from asparagus to stone fruit, strawberries to grapes, apples to potatoes and everything in between. “We source a full line of fruits and vegetables, while most exporters only stick to one or the other,” Miller remarks. “Everything we do is fresh; we take our containers straight to the farmer using the latest shipment technologies and leading growers, and ensure that the product arrives timely and in the freshest condition.”

TFC focuses on managing supply chain relationships with growers through face-to-face relationships. “We work with a wide range of growers, large and small, because we have a broad customer base with a wide range of needs,” reveals Miller. “We want to make sure we’ve found a grower who can keep up with our customer’s demand.”

To keep up with demand and allow for some breathing room, TFC is hoping to be settled into a new, larger office in Lafayette by 2014. “The building is still under construction as we speak, but we’re excited for the expansion,” admits Miller. “We’ve also invested in new packaging that splits bulk produce into smaller quantities so supermarkets spend less time getting the product consumer-ready. These are just a few of our new ventures moving forward.”

2014 will mark 20 years in business for TFC. “On the heels of our 2012 success, 2013 has been met with certain industry challenges such as the closure of California citrus to China, newly integrated quota system out of Indonesia, numerous issues with transit delays, and port/country strikes; all creating headwinds for the industry,” Miller explains. “Having said that, I am optimistic that there will still be room for growth in 2013. The driving force in all of this will be to focus and execute on our core beliefs: delivering quality produce, continuous focus on relationships, excellent service and working to maintain a solid team of employees.” It is evident that Miller is very proud of what The Fresh Connection has been able to achieve in the past 20 years and that he looks forward to what the next 20 will bring.

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