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Thomas Produce Sales Inc.: One of the Industry’s Most Respected Shippers
Culiacan Valley in Sinaloa, Mexico, is one of the country’s most agriculturally important growing regions. The valley’s farmers produce an abundance of rice, wheat and fresh produce, and a large portion of the region’s crops make their way into the United States via the Nogales, Ariz., border crossing for export into the United States. Thomas Produce Sales Inc. (TPS), a third generation family-owned company, has been working with Mexican growers for decades to help bring Mexican produce to American dinner plates.
According to Chuck Thomas, CEO of TPS, the company’s history in the industry stretches back to pre-World War II America. “My grandfather started Thomas Produce in North Carolina in the ’30s. He built the company over the years developing relationships and selling high-quality produce to area stores,” reveals Thomas.
Thomas, who purchased TPS from his family members in 2000, relocated the corporate headquarters in Nogales from North Carolina. Thomas says that the company hires a fleet of vehicles that ship a wide variety of produce including: tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, melons, chilies and peppers to customers all over the United States.
Building Relationships Key to Success
“We will ship nationwide, but primarily our produce ends up in stores and markets in the southeast. We still have some of the same customers that my grandfather established 70 years ago,” continues Thomas. “We are primarily a service-based organization, and ensuring that our customers receive high quality, safe produce on time is our top priority. The relationships that we have established are extremely important to us.”
Thomas, who has an engaging personality, says that he deliberately doesn’t maintain an Internet presence because he prefers to connect with potential clients either face to face, or on the phone. “I like making friends and doing the right job for them,” continues Thomas. “There are too many companies out there now that operate as nameless, faceless operations, but that’s not us. We enjoy the personal aspect that we bring to our clients and hope that they appreciate it as well.”
Thomas says that his company employs 10 people and that he still owns farmland in Hendersonville. The company also operates a seasonal office in southern California from July to November. “We pull in around $20 million a year in sales, and I’m perfectly happy with the size that we are. I could hire an additional 20 people and double our warehouse, but why do that? I would just end up working 90 hours a week. We’re big enough to handle large volumes of produce and we’ve outlasted several high-profile competitors that have attempted to establish a large presence in Nogales, like Dole, Del Monte and even Reba McEntire. We have a system that runs well and that’s the reason we have been successful for the last 80 years.”
The company typically ships 30 to 50 thousand packages a week. Thomas proudly notes that due to high demand, at times the company has shipped over a hundred thousands packages in a week for its clients in the past. “The produce is driven into the United States, inspected at the border and then we pick it up at various distributor warehouses and ship it out from here,” he explains.
Food Safety Is Paramount
To stay in compliance with increasingly stringent food safety laws, Thomas reveals that his company’s facility in Nogales is currently undergoing a costly and thorough renovation, while still maintaining its production schedule for clients. The company’s reputation in the industry for its high-quality, safe produce has attracted high-profile clients like Wal-Mart and Food Lion in the past, as well as many wholesalers, chain stores and food service accounts at present.
“Food safety has come a long way since I started in the industry,” says Thomas. “We’re at the point where the products can be traced not just from our facility and its destinations in the U.S., but back to the field and the individual picker who put the produce in the box.”
Thomas recounts that the company’s biggest challenge at the moment is lack of federal follow-through at the border. “In 2011, the government expanded the facility at the Nogales border crossing and has failed to follow through with adequate manpower to staff the crossing. One of our biggest challenges right now is that Mexico built a highway through the Sierras to McAllen, Texas, and it has now become a faster and easier route for Mexican producers to bring their products to eastern United States. We’ve lost some business to the Texas Valley and it’s becoming a viable alternative to Nogales. That needs to be addressed.”
The company still remains profitable in spite of the increased competition because Thomas maintains the systems that were put into place by his family years ago. “We stick with what we’re good at and don’t follow every new fad in the marketplace. Every few years a new, hot product will hit the market, but then after a couple of years, people generally go back to their favorites.”
With the time-honored qualities of establishing relationships and delivering high-quality produce across the United States in a timely manner, TPS has become one of the industry’s most respected shipping companies. Chuck Thomas has wisely followed those practices which were set into place by his family over the last 80 years and Thomas Produce Sales Inc., deserves its leading position in the industry.