In 1994, Ted Kaplan started his wholesale produce, packing, shipping and distribution company in what has become a family tradition. Professional Produce is located in Vernon, California, south of Los Angeles, from which it serves markets on both coasts and abroad.
While the company has officially been around for 25 years, owner Ted Kaplan is a third-generation produce man. Kaplan’s grandmother Dora was one of the founders of the Los Angeles Produce Market dating back to 1917 and operated Kaplan’s Fruit and Produce until the early 1980s. Her son Milt – Ted’s father – worked with her as well and then opened his own business, the Produce Place. It’s safe to say that being in the produce industry is a long-standing family tradition for the Kaplans.
Today the company has 150 full-time employees, located in its 50,000 square foot facility in Vernon, California. The jobs the company provides range from produce repackers to forklift drivers, truck drivers, salespeople and accountants.
Professional Produce ships fresh products all over the world, focusing its attention on Asia and all over North America’s western and eastern coasts, though its primary business is in Southern California. “We do a lot of local business with different distributors and wholesalers in LA, but we invest in different growing operations throughout California, Arizona, Mexico, Peru, and New Zealand,” said Professional Produce Director of Business Development Alexander Ersoff. “We don’t own any of the farms, but we do invest in different growing operations and have partnerships with the growers to ensure we have year-round supplies of our core commodities.”
The partnerships the company has cultivated with growers around the globe have enabled the team to provide fresh produce continually year-round, which has been one of the keys to its success.
Another key to Professional Produce’s success is its desire to put customers first. To this end, the company is proactive in mitigating any food quality issues before they arise.
One of the most recent factors that have driven the company into a more progressive stance is the issue of food safety. It takes food safety with the utmost seriousness, so much so that, five years ago, in a major overhaul of the company, it acquired SQF Level 2 certification from the Safe Quality Food Institute.
The Safe Quality Food Institute defines SQF Certification as being “recognized by all facets of the food-processing industry, and is a measurement by which producers, suppliers, retailers, and consumers can be assured of safe, quality food products. SQF Certification virtually guarantees a higher degree of trust and acceptance in the global marketplace.”
For Ersoff, the certification gives the business another way to really stand out from competitors. “With the way the industry is moving, especially now where a lot of these retailers and our customers are requiring us to add the food safety, we took that initiative upon us a couple of years before there was so much pressure, so we made sure we stayed ahead of the curve,” said Ersoff. “That’s an industry-wide change that is going on right now that we adapted to early on and we really pride ourselves on.”
Ersoff went on to explain that the company has established a food safety department, and it sends employees to seminars and classes, and as a result, the company is helping contribute to food safety initiatives of the future.
The other issues it is facing are those of increased costs throughout the industry. Transportation costs alone have increased by twenty-to thirty percent in 2018 in some shipping regions.
“Whether it’s minimum wage being increased, truck costs being increased, farming methods contributing to raised costs, and food safety raised costs,” explained Ersoff, “there are just more costs going into all the work that we do, and it’s tough to pass those costs along to our customers and retailers when we’re trying to do a proper job and have all the food safety accreditations and all the proper trucking that are compliant. So the increased costs have an impact on keeping the industry competitive.”
With so much competition in the food production industry, it can be a challenge to stand out and remain successful, but the company has felt it has been important not to cut any corners when it comes to the products and services it provides.
“The biggest thing that differentiates us from our competitors is our attention to detail and our customer service,” said Ersoff. “Our customers know that we are always going to do what is asked of us, and we’re going to do it right, and we’re always available to get the job done, so that’s what’s kept us competitive and gaining new business over the past twenty-five years and what’s going to continue to separate us from our competitors in the future.”
Professional Produce understands that building and maintaining strong relationships within the company has just as much value as the ones with external vendors and customers.
“We’re proud of our culture. We’re really a family here. We are all in the office early. We all help each other out, and I feel like we’ve created a really good work culture and a tight-knit group,” said Ersoff. “The average employee in the sales office has been here for at least fifteen years, so there’s a lot of long-standing employees, so I think we have a really good culture here at Professional Produce.”
That commitment has helped ensure the legacy that three generations of Kaplans have built. After more than one hundred years in the produce business, it is safe to say that there is no threat of the family leaving the produce business, and it is clear that they understand the importance of adapting to whatever challenges lie before them.
In the short term, the company will maintain its current initiatives and continue to focus on improving operations and satisfying its customers. Its longer-term goals are to continue setting itself apart from the competition, grow the business, and stay on the cutting edge when it comes to topics such as food safety.
It is also committed to helping the environment in any way it can because it understands that the company’s operation depends on the earth being able to remain clean enough for fresh produce to grow properly, something which Dora Kaplan learned firsthand long before the earth was ever in crisis, and something which is firmly rooted in the Kaplan blood.