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Paradise Produce keeps on truckin’ to success

For 29 years, Paradise Produce Distributors has been a year-round distributor of fruits and vegetables and have practically perfected the practice of filling customers’ produce, transportation, marketing and promotional needs.

“Every year is different in the produce business and this was another one that fell into the prevailing pattern; we had some very good things happen and some very, very strange things happen,” said Joel Silverman, president of the Lakeland, FL-based company. “Weather played havoc with us pretty much all summer long.”

He explained heavy rain started in May in Florida and that was a similar report the company received throughout its coverage area.

IMG 5284Joel Silverman, Misty Spears, Gerald Cassano and Jim Spooner.“We are suppliers who go all the way up the East Coast following the crop and buy from the Midwest also, and we stay in touch with our customers on a year-round basis,” Silverman said. “This summer we experienced so much rain East of the Mississippi, it made a hard job even more difficult. When you have 14-straight days of rain, things are difficult to do.”

That rain led to marginal quality and high prices and Paradise Produce Distributors needed to perform a balancing act as middle-men between the growers and end-users, which proved challenging at times.

“We try to make everyone happy,” Silverman said. “We try to pay the growers as much as we can possible can and try to provide our customers with the best product as possible.”

With almost three decades of experience to draw upon, Silverman understands how to be successful, even when things like this happen. Paradise Produce Distributors’ strategy is based on continuity and consistency.

“We try to keep the same group of suppliers but we’re always on the lookout for new suppliers who can offer us value over what we’re already doing,” he said. “At the same time, we are always on the lookout for new customers. You have to do that because you’re always going to lose some customers on any given year, whether it’s through people retiring or companies merging… you can never go to sleep in this business.”

Communication is also key, he added, and that means making sure he’s not only talking with customers about their wants and needs, but also staying in touch with his trucks and those in the industry. He also needs to stay on top of what produce people are interested in.

“The group of super foods seems to change every year as trends change, but between blueberries and avocados, there’s an incredible demand all the time, not just the seasonal demand,” Silverman said. “You’re able to put together a few more long-term programs with a continuity of supply, where 15-20 years ago, you were in one area for a month and then you had to do something different.”

Paradise Produce Distributors was impacted naturally by some of the new regulations that have popped up regarding transportation, with Silverman noting they went against the business model.

“When I set up this company in 1990, I had the idea to allow a customer to make one call to me and buy as many items as possibly needed, and then we would purchase the items and send a truck around,” he said. “The advantages of that was one call for the buyer, who could buy 20 items from me, we could make all the pickups and ship to their warehouse for one invoice.”

Today, because drivers are limited to a number of hours they can work, those parameters have changed a bit and the company has positioned itself to be more efficient in order to take away any downtime that wouldn’t allow the drivers to make an on-time arrival.

“That’s made a great difference in our business and so far, we’ve been able to circumvent any major changes but it’s been such a confusing conversion, I’m not sure anybody really understands what we’re up against,” Silverman said. “It’s definitely a learning process.”