Although Leger & Son, Inc. was established in 2001 and is a relatively small outfit with one home office and fifteen employees, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality service and product. Founder and Treasurer C.M. ‘Buddy’ Leger has kept this business within the family since its inception.
We spoke with Jordan Carter, Director of Sales and Marketing. She told us about the business, its history, food safety, and of fresh marketing efforts which will include a new logo and website.
In 1965, a resourceful man by the name of C.M ‘Buddy’ Leger began shipping watermelons to the states of Georgia, Florida, Missouri, and Indiana. After seeing much success and growth, Buddy partnered with a friend and the two established L&M Enterprises. However, Buddy wanted to take watermelon research and promotion further, and so he along with other industry leaders founded The National Watermelon Promotion Board in the mid-80s.
“Buddy was a pioneer of his day and has made so many notable contributions to the ag industry – too many to list,” says Jordan.
Buddy’s son Greg has furthered his father’s business plan, and through hard work, he has taken the company to new heights. He leads by example and throughout his career, he has been called to serve on many boards because of his experience, knowledge and success.
“He has held the title of president for several associations, been awarded and recognized for industry achievements, and continues to serve the [agriculture] industry through various programs including The University of Georgia’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and the Council for Agricultural Research, Extension and Teaching,” says Jordan.
Leger & Son Inc. is a family of farms, and the relationships with those farms are vital to the success of the company. The watermelon distributor ships out of Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Delaware and markets its watermelons to major retail stores up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest. Annually, it ships close to 3,000 loads of watermelons and aims always to have a year-round supply.
“We are by no means the biggest watermelon shipper, nor is that our goal, but I believe we put up the best pack,” says Jordan. “Our mission is to ‘combine a tradition of growing the juiciest, tastiest watermelons on our family of farms, with the best-to-market delivery process to ensure that customers enjoy the most refreshing watermelon experience possible.”
Leger & Son Inc. had talked about rebranding for several years, but never pursued it. In 2018, it finally decided to take the plunge, and it has been a beneficial undertaking. The team is young, so that called for something fresh. The company hired a marketing consultant to begin the process, Casey Ison with Freshtography, and she led the company in the right direction.
“We wanted to stay true to our southern roots and incorporate a rustic vibe. Casey suggested watercolor, and it was perfect! After many e-mails and phone calls, we had a new logo. It is a cool modern representation of Leger & Son Inc.,” says Jordan.
The company already had a website, but it needed to be simplified and amplified. When the decision came down to rebrand it was also decided to redesign the site to make something simple yet colorful, easy to navigate, and informative. The aim for the web page was to tell a story, but Leger & Son Inc. wanted the equivalent of a Pulitzer. The result was better than imagined, with most of the credit going to Casey Ison at Freshtography and the McGrath+McKenna Design Group.
“The visuals are strong and personal. The vibrancy is a work of art. It’s fun and authentic to who we are, and we are so happy with the outcome!” says Jordan.
Food safety concerns started to hit around 2008, and consumers were losing confidence in fresh foods. Innovative technology provided a new communication channel to speed up traceability which was helping brand owners increase consumer trust and drive sales. Leger & Son Inc. aimed for both, and the ground-breaking move forward put it on the map.
Today, the company remains committed to continually improving and updating facilities and equipment for maximum efficiency. “Our watermelons are graded and sorted using an Exeter Machine. It is a highly efficient machine designed by Exeter Engineering out of California. The device is colossal and very impressive. Our watermelons are washed in a chlorine dioxide brush bed that we designed and packed with precaution and care,” says Jordan.
At the packing facility, quality control starts with a conveyor belt where graders check fruit for bruising, dents, or disease. Those that don’t make the cut are then taken off the line. Another piece of equipment that is crucial to the business is the washing system, which was conceived of and designed by Leger & Son, Inc.
“As the watermelons go down the line, there is a washer with a brush bed that spins. The watermelons pass through a chlorine dioxide water system which washes off any dirt or impurities. After washing, they are graded and sorted using the Exeter Machine before being packed into a bin,” says Jordan.
In 2016, a second fully-enclosed facility was built at headquarters in Cordele, Georgia. The building expansions have centralized packing guarantee of control over quality and food safety.
As a family-run business, there are challenges, no matter the structure. Leger & Son Inc. has its ups and downs, but those are the day-to-day hardships that come with agriculture. You do not go into farming for the glamour. “It’s blood, sweat, and tears every day. It’s a humbling business, and we love what we do. We are a family, and we support each other with every decision,” says Jordan.
Greg’s children are going to be graduating from college over the next few years, and the hope is that they will be joining the family business. The company wants to grow into a larger entity and to solidify its current business.
On the retail side, Leger & Son Inc. tries to keep the acreage it plants and its business carefully chosen. It will not plant watermelons just to flood the market.
It also grows pecans under the name Greg Leger Farms LLC. In total, the company has over 350 acres for pecans with varieties like Stuart, Sumner, Pawnee, and Kiowa. With the new generation coming up, diversification into other crops could be the next shift for the company going forward.