Wada Farms now offers year-round watermelons with full category management services
Whether a buyer is looking for full truckloads of watermelons delivered year-round to various distribution centers across the country or mixed loads of watermelons with multiple other items such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, onions, butternut squash and pumpkins, all riding on the same truck, and often loading at the same location, Wada Farms Marketing Group LLC, headquartered in Idaho Falls, ID, can now meet that need.
Wada Farms, which has long been a major supplier of potatoes, onions and sweet potatoes, added watermelons to its portfolio about three years ago and has recently made a major expansion, extending its watermelon program to a year-round business, establishing partnerships with producers from many growing districts th roughout the U.S. and in Mexico and Central America. The company has also diversified into several seasonal vegetables, many of them grown as rotation crops by sweet potato farmers.
“These other items we have decided to get involved in are helping the whole mix for one stop shopping,” said Fran Torigian, a 44-year produce industry veteran who was recently hired as vice president of sales and new business development for the Wada Farms Eastern Division based in Raleigh, NC.
Torigian’s wife, Susi Torigian, also works in sales out of the Raleigh office as does long-time Wada employee Norman Brown, director of sweet potato sales.
Wada Farms’ product line diversification is proving to be a great benefit for customers, and it has “absolutely been a selling point” for the company, attracting the interest of “many retailers and foodservice people,” Fran Torigian said. Since news of the diversification has gotten out to the trade, “I’ve received numerous calls” from retail and foodservice buyers, many of whom had not done any business previously with Wada. He has also received calls from a number of growers who plant watermelons and other items as rotational crops and who expressed interest in having Wada Farms represent them in those items.
For customers who come on board with Wada’s watermelon program, whether they be new customer or long-time customers who may have been buying potatoes and onions from Wada for 30 years, “in addition to offering you [watermelon] supplies 12 months of the year, we offer you category management,” said Torigian. Whether retail or foodservice, “we would look at your market area and give you a perspective of your competition in your market area and what they are doing in that watermelon category.” Wada Farms has “a whole entity,” within the company that specializes in doing just that, he said.
As part of its category management services, the Wada Farms team will make recommendations with regard to promotional activities such as radio spots or in-store demos as well as recommendations on the sizes and varieties “you should be promoting within your market area” because they are what “the consumers have gravitated towards” and expressed interest in, he said. “We will give you all of that information to help you make the decision of when to promote, when to sell the watermelons, what varieties, what sizing, what pack styles and flavor profiles.
“In addition, we could help you as it relates to delivering that product when you need it to the DC or to the store level, through our logistics department. That would be part of the package,” he continued. “Let’s say you are on promotion with Wada Farms and hypothetically it’s 100 loads covering maybe five or six different DCs. We would do category management for you in having that product at the DC when you need it, anticipating when you might need more product” and providing on-time delivery.
Susi Torigian was a customer of Wada before she became an employee and said she was always impressed with the fact that “Wada sales had a great reach, and they had a great brand name. That always attracted me to the company, The Wada name and the Wada story are a benefit to the customer” because of the way the company builds relationships both with customers and with farmers.
She was a chiropractic physician for more than 25 years before getting into produce. “Whether in health care or in produce, I have always been very strong in customer service” and continue to be, she said. “I believe in it. That is my approach to it. I work at it” for the benefit of everyone involved including customers and growers. “There is something about getting boots on the ground and going out and meeting with your farmers and seeing what they are growing and how they are growing it.” Doing so increases the confidence of both the farmers Wada Farms is representing and the customers it is supplying, and puts the company in a better position to benefit both.