Jim Padden is the CEO of Your Way Fresh, a North American fruit and vegetable processor, distributor, and sourcing platform that brings high quality produce from farm to table within hours. Jim is also our office neighbor in Newport Beach, and agreed to do a Q&A on his experience in the US Agriculture business, the status of Global Agriculture.
Tell us about your background in agriculture.
It started with my grandfather who was a farmer in Imperial County. He farmed a variety of crops, and that was my introduction to agriculture. After college I went to work for a family business that was involved in the agricultural side of the cattle business – animal agriculture. I worked my way through that and started a couple companies that were boutique operations focusing on value-added proteins. We started with beef and evolved into pork and various produce items. We created a very successful cooking operation that served a variety of quick-serve restaurants.
I moved from the value-added cooking operation to Sunkist Growers. Sunkist was primarily a citrus marketing cooperative. All production at that time was in California and Arizona. To help create better sales leverage with larger retailers…we started sales/marketing operations in South Africa, Chile and Australia. This broadened my experience to include Southern Hemisphere production and sales.
Following Sunkist I started a growers cooperative, in Salinas, CA. It focused on the row crop lettuce business in California and Arizona. The initial focus was to determine demand of various vegetable row crops…and attempt to closely match production. Our member base controlled a large percentage of crop production of a various row –crops; broccoli, cauliflower, iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, celery and others. In many growing seasons we successfully managed to match crop output with demand so growers were not constantly overproduced and selling below farming costs.
I spent some time in the edible oils business before I was approached by a group of produce processors/distributors…they wanted to consolidate a group of regional processing operations. Giving them better access to larger super-regional and national foodservice, retail and institutional operators. We slice, chop, dice, peel etc. a complete line of fresh fruits and vegetables, that sort of thing. Very customer focused on specific specifications and packs…this became Your Way*Fresh.
What is Your Way Fresh, and why is the business approach unique?
We’re a group of 8 different processors throughout the US and Canada. Everything we do is fresh – we don’t do any frozen or extended shelf life products. It’s all fresh produce for the retail, food service and institutional trade.
We knitted ourselves together to create a complete coverage base that in fact is more efficient than some of the national produce processors. This has allowed us to have a large logistical footprint for fresh cut fruit and vegetables. We can aggressively sell to super regional and national customers the fact that we can produce the same product, same specifications, same price, same package to an entire foodservice, retail or institutional operator. Volume and profits are growing and we are participating in business channels that we couldn’t have participated in before.
How is the perspective on agriculture different in first world countries versus developing countries?
20 years from now the number of people on this planet is going to be exponentially larger. The majority of this population growth is projected to be in geographies that are already struggling to feed their populations. Unless some catastrophic event occurs these pressures will not be felt by most in first world countries.
Genetically engineered products may play a role in helping to increase per acre production. But GM seeds and crops are looked at very differently by some in the first world and the developing world. I would think GM production may continue to play an important role in feeding the world’s growing population.
Many in the first world nation look at food from a unique perspective – that food is kind of fun or neat, or something to be dabbled in. When the pressures of starvation are not present you can be concerned with Paleo diets, low carb diets, whatever. In many developing countries, where the availability of food is in question…those type of concerns are obviously not present. Food becomes the difference maker that gets you through another day…sustenance.
Do you feel that American farmers and agriculture technology companies in countries like the US should play more of a role in some of the developing countries whose land needs to be farmed in a way that will feed the future?
Farmers in most countries, given the vagaries of assets and infrastructure are all efficient. Obviously those with better infrastructure and land and water are more prolific producers. It appears to me to be local government policy, monetary policy, and infrastructure issues that might impede the success of say a farmer in a developing county. When you consider countries that I would say are opportunistic for areas for increased agriculture crop and animal production my mind goes to Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa. Much of this production can be sold in the export market
When you’re exporting product, it has to be the highest quality to last the journey. So I don’t think there is a lack of farming expertise in these countries, but rather a lack of government assistance in the form of roadways, bridges, deep water ports, and banking systems that allow farmers to borrow money at correct rates, I think that’s what impedes. And of course war and political stability or instability.
Tell us more about your recent partnership with the Disney brand, PJ Masks, and why it’s important for another growing issue in the US and Globally – childhood obesity.
At first, when we were approached to do this, we knew this wasn’t in our core competency. However, there is an important story behind it – if they buy a PJ masks clamshell with 5, 3oz packs of apples in it, they’re buying a solid, healthy product. Because of that, and the fact that these PJ masks characters are good characters, we agreed this was a good opportunity. If our branded products can interest kids in eating a healthy, wholesome snack instead of a bag of potato chips, then why not?
Your Way Fresh believes in producing high quality, safe, fresh and consistent looking produce for their food service and retail partners in the US and Canada. The company has packers in seven states and in one Canadian Province, and just launched a partnership with the popular Disney Kids’ TV show, PJ Masks providing a new line of PJ Mask-branded produce snacks to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption for kids.