August 1, 2023

WG Member Profile: Fresh Kist Produce LLC

Fresh Kist Produce LLC | Member since 2000

The saying “there is strength in numbers” resonates with all of us. Fresh Kist Produce LLC was founded on this very principle of unity and collaboration and continues to embrace it as the foundation for its continued success.

Headquartered in Guadalupe, Calif., Fresh Kist Produce was established in 2000 when a collective group of grower-shippers joined together with the goal of enhancing the marketing of their vegetable production. The growers were facing the challenges of an unstable marketplace and unfavorable market conditions and knew they needed to make a momentous change.

“They realized back then they’d be stronger together if they wanted to make a profit from growing and shipping their vegetables,” said Denny Donovan, who has been with Fresh Kist Produce since 2005 and sales manager since 2009. These grower-owners have worked together ever since to grow high-quality vegetables marketed and sold by Fresh Kist. “We also draw quite a bit of product from several other local growers who support us in growing, harvesting and shipping fresh produce in the U.S. and internationally,” Denny said.

Fresh Kist prides itself on its broccoli program—the backbone of its business, Denny explained. “We export most our product to Japan and Taiwan. If we didn’t have the international market, I don’t think we would be growing that much broccoli because that’s what keeps us moving.”

In addition to broccoli, Fresh Kist grows cauliflower, celery, lettuce and mixed vegetables, including sugar peas and snap peas. “We’ll also bring in product from Mexico, like radishes, onions, kale and cilantro when it’s in season,” he said.

With nearly 50 years of experience in selling fresh produce, Denny said he knew at an early age that this would be his career path. “I was born into a produce family and exposed to produce sales early. My dad was a produce salesman, my grandfather was a produce salesman, and my uncle was a produce salesman,” he said. “I saw my dad enjoying what he did and figured I could hang around with some really great people who were enjoying themselves and making a good living.”

One of Fresh Kist’s winning formulas has been its focus on open market items, explained Denny. He said that many ag companies are heavily involved in contract sales and contract around 60 percent to 70 percent of their products.

“We’re the opposite,” Denny said. “We contract about 20 percent of our product. We look smart when items are short and we’re selling at a higher price. For example, last year we were able to sell romaine lettuce for $70, $80, $90 a box, which are numbers we’ve never seen before. Our growers were rewarded for that, of course.”

But there are times when this can present a challenge, particularly when the market becomes saturated, which Denny is seeing right now. “There are people fulfilling their contracts, and there’s not much product being sold on the open market, so if you have any kind of excess product, you’re selling for really low prices,” he said.

This year has so far brought some unexpected surprises for the industry veteran. With record rainfall and cold temperatures in January, February and March, Denny expected to see product shortages from the first part of May to the middle of June. So far, that hasn’t been the case.

“I saw pictures of overflowing rivers and flooded fields—it was looking like Armageddon for a while. I was wondering how we were going to get products to our customers two months down the road, but these growers managed to pull it off. You’ve got to hand it to these California growers. It’s a negative that the prices are terrible right now for some of the products, but it’s a real tribute to the workaholic mentality of the California grower.”