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Recognition: Albert Grimaldi continues tour of industry careers

After almost 30 years of being both a buyer and the head of the produce division of C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. — which was preceded by stints growing and retailing — Albert Grimaldi has now opted for a position in a new segment of the industry with internationally-focused Fru-Veg Marketing Inc., based in Miami.

Grimaldi was born in Venezuela in 1959 and moved to Connecticut when he was 2 years of age. “My dad was from Italy and my mom was from Venezuela. My dad was a tailor from the old country,” said Grimaldi.Albert-and-Melina-GrimaldiAlbert and Melina Grimaldi

Grimaldi grew up in the Connecticut River Valley in the 60s and 70s and always wanted to be a farmer. He entered a two-year ag program at a university in Connecticut and started a truck farm after he completed that program. He loved being a farmer and grew an assortment of fresh vegetables for more than a half-dozen years. He did alright for himself, selling many retailers in the Northeast including Stew Leonard’s and several A&P divisions. It was through A&P that he met buyer George Semanie, who ended up having a profound impact on Grimaldi’s produce industry career. “He told me I should get off the farm and become a produce buyer,” said Grimaldi.

The Connecticut farmer could see the handwriting on the wall. He realized he had to get larger to be a successful farmer. So instead, he became a retail buyer for Foodmart, a division of A&P. That put him in the perfect position to join Semanie and Scott Danner in establishing and developing the brand new produce division of C&S Wholesale Grocers. It was 1990 and C&S began its entry into produce by becoming the produce-buying arm for Foodmart.  

“We started with 36 Foodmarts and began signing up all the independents in the area,” Grimaldi said.

Of course, the company had a leg up as C&S was already providing many of these independents and smaller chains with dry groceries as well as dairy and meat.

For the next 29 years, Grimaldi was an integral part of the produce division. “I’ve been the senior vice president in charge of the produce department for 12 years,” he said.  “Scott left the company after 11 years and George retired in 2007 or 2008, which is when I took over.”

The grower-turned-retailer-turned-wholesaler is proud of what he accomplished at C&S along with Danner and Semanie. “We built the produce division from nothing into a multi-billion- dollar operation,” he said. “We were supplying many different stores. I don’t want to name them all, but we were doing business with the biggest retailers in the country.”Farmer-AlbertAlbert Grimaldi farming in Connecticut as a young man.

He remembers building the company’s value-added program from scratch and also developing its organic program. “I believe C&S is the largest organic distributor in the country. It was my team that put that together,” he said. “Our claim to fame was our buying team. We had an amazing team of buyers. I’d say our procurement team was second to none.”

For his part, Grimaldi said, “I was at the right place at the right time.”

He said that is again the case as he took the opportunity to retire from C&S at the end of March and join Fru-Veg.  He explained that “my beautiful wife Melina is from Florida and I promised we would move here one day.”

That one day happened to be earlier this year when the couple bought a house in the Miami area. “Fru-Veg was one of A&P’s niche providers.  I’ve known owner Conchita Espinosa for many years. She has built a great company. Today, her nephew Steve Espinosa is the backbone of the company. They are a high-end niche importer that works with some of the finest growers in Latin America. My job is to help Steve grow the company. We want to incorporate a domestic sourcing program with the international program — especially on our top five or six items.  We want to be a year-round supplier of those items.”CS-TeamAnthony Sattler, Dave Dearborn, Michelle Kurkolonis, Albert Grimaldi and Bryan Barnes.

Grimaldi listed asparagus, French beans, grapes, kiwifruit, cherries, apples, pears and blueberries among the firm’s top-tier items. “We also have a very good organic program for many of our crops. In fact, we have a very large organic blueberry deal.”

In discussing his close to 40 years in one aspect of the business or another, Grimaldi quite simply said, “I love my career. I was blessed. I have had an unbelievable tenure. We were able to build C&S Produce from scratch and I’m very happy with the team we had in place when I left. In fact, talent building was a strength at C&S.”

The veteran of many skills was very happy to work for a privately held, family-owned company at C&S and is equally happy to be joining another at Fru-Veg. At about 60 years old, he said he has many years left in the tank and expected to end his career at Fru-Veg many years down the road.

“I will be continuing to build my legacy at Fru-Veg,” he promised.