The Produce News
By Keith Loria
From the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing quarantine, the leaders and associates of F&S Produce were determined to fulfill the important work of supplying retail stores with value-added and bulk fruits and vegetables. And imperative to that mission was protecting employees through social distancing, requiring staff to wear masks, checking temperatures, and holding virtual meetings.
“Getting the plant suitable to protect our employees was the first initiative, “said Sam Pipitone, chief executive officer and owner of Vineland, NJ-based F&S Produce. “We opened up our training room to spread out people and to promote social distancing.”
Other safety initiatives F&S Produce has introduced include increasing employee awareness and education programs, establishing a bilingual handout station that offers information on CDC recommendations, an intensified cleaning regime, and a higher frequency of facility fogging using a CDC-recommended chemical for eliminating and controlling the coronavirus.
Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Dane Almassy, added that a lot of attention has also been focused on employee morale. “Mental health is an important aspect during the crisis, and we have implemented open office hours for employees to speak with HR and the executive team, team morale-focused conference calls, employee lunches and other appreciation programs,” he said. “A healthy employee moral fuels the success of our operation and all our initiatives.”
COVID-19 aside, this is an exciting time for F&S Produce, as it recently relaunched and rebranded its Sam’s Fresh Salsa with three new line extensions, entered a contract for the rights to sell the Green Giant brand in 11 states and reopened its IQF and puree facility at its headquarters to replace equipment that was lost in a fire last year. These types of initiatives are key to the company’s success in a competitive market.
“The New Jersey market is a densely populated, diverse environment in which you need to always service on time, in full, and at the highest quality and freshness possible every day of the week,” Almassy said. “New Jersey residents are loyal to their retailers and their brands, so we try to service all retailers with Sam’s Fresh Salsa, Mott’s Apple Slices, Green Giant, Snack Attackers, and much, much more!”
Farming is another important aspect of the business, as it grows cilantro, kale, parsley, romaine lettuce, cabbage, beets, squash, dill and radishes. The total annual output of those crops is about 2 million pounds.
“We launched our 700-acre farming initiative in 2019 to bolster our vertically integrated operation with Pipco transportation,” said Sam Pipitone III, vice president of the company. “Now we grow, procure, manufacture and deliver under the F&S umbrella.”
Almassy had high praise for retailers, whose efforts have helped provide shoppers with fresh produce during this challenging time. “The retailers are doing a fantastic job with their departments, during all the difficulties associated with COVID-19,” he said. “We appreciate the frontline grocery workers and all the drivers out there. Just keeping the shelves full is enough for us.”
Pipitone added that the company is also facing the challenge of an uncertain future and what the marketplace’s new norm will be and how F&S can assist in those efforts.
“We always focus on providing the freshest produce on time and in full to everybody who is open to service in the community,” he said. “When the next phase of COVID-19 unfolds, we will continue to focus on the immediate needs of the retailer and the consumers.”