Divine Flavor begins 16th season as a produce company, shines spotlight on original team member
What started off in 2006 as a program that comprised a few hundred thousand boxes of table grapes would soon turn into a produce brand accounting for more than 10 million boxes a year as Divine Flavor enters its 16th season.
While the grower-shipper specializes in the grape category, it also has diversified itself over the years into other commodities such as Bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons. Helping lead Divine Flavor through its journey over the past 15 years is produce veteran Dennis Hay, one of the original team members at the company.
It was about 16 years ago when Divine Flavor was founded by Alan Aguirre, Carlos Bon and Pedro Batiz, a trio who had a vision of supplying customers with fresh and flavorful organic produce. Based in a small office in Otay Mesa, CA, Bon and Batiz would set up shop to start coordinating its first shipments to the U.S. chain stores from their premier grower, Grupo Alta, in Mexico where Aguirre resided. It wasn’t long after when the company’s first year presented the opportunity for growth, and the team would bring on Hay.
“Back then, we were a very small company, but I believed in what the owners stood for and the type of company they were creating,” said Hay. “In 15 years you see a lot, but I feel like I’ve always been valued here and have been part of the Divine Flavor family.”
It was 1991 when Hay began working in produce, starting off stocking shelves at a local Costco store in Seattle. Soon after, Hay was promoted to work in the head offices of Costco located in Kirkland, WA, where he would then oversee inventory control. He eventually became an assistant buyer, and then concluded his time at Costco as a buyer for all produce items, with a focus on melons.
In 2007, Hay began his career with Divine Flavor where he worked alongside two other original members of the sales team, Luis Batiz, who is currently conventional hothouse category manager, and Carlos Bon, who at the time was Grupo Alta’s main sales manager but is now vice president of sales.
“My relationship with Dennis is very personal,” said Bon. “We are not only friends at work but also outside the office, and that is due to our respect for one another. He has supported me throughout my career at the company and he has taught me valuable lessons about relationship building with customers and how to better communicate with them.”
Bon added that Hay’s abilities are not only due to his experience prior to Divine Flavor, but also because they are God-given. “Dennis is a person who comes from a family of high moral standards,” said Bon. “His professionalism, ability to communicate, and hard work over the past 15 years have been a significant part of our company’s success and we are extremely grateful to have him as part of the Divine Flavor family.”
In Hay’s first years within the company, his primary focus was helping build the foundation of Divine Flavor’s product line with key growers throughout Mexico. He would sell every commodity for the company, including veg items such as cucumbers, tomatoes, Bell peppers, and grapes and melons from Grupo Alta.
After a few years, Hay then helped the company transition to program business and special packaging for customers.
“One of our company’s strengths, which elevated our game, was the ability to quickly be retail-ready,” said Hay. “Very early on, we were fully integrated from farm to retail. Our biggest priority then – as it is now -- was taking our programs from plan to fruition.”
Hay eventually earned the nickname ‘The clamshell guy’ as he garnered a reputation for setting up clamshell programs with the stores, a typical retail-ready presentation.
During the past few seasons, Hay fully transitioned to the grape team, focusing on the company’s strategic expansion into South American imports and its latest grape project in Jalisco, Mexico at Grupo Alta’s Don Mario, which focuses mainly on premium grape varieties.
Though Divine Flavor is a company that is often recognized for its exquisite product line of grapes and veggies, as well as its commitment to social responsibility and organics, it also likes to shine the spotlight on its employees.
“Divine Flavor is a very diverse company and we all come from different backgrounds, different previous careers and different cultures, but that’s what makes it special,” said Hay. “The company truly shows respect for one another, and I’m privileged to be a part of it each day.”
As the end of 2022 approaches, Divine Flavor will be gearing up for the West Mexico season with its staple veg items, but also the South American grape import deal starting with Peru -- a program that will benefit from Hay’s wealth of experience.
Photo: Dennis Hay