After more than 50 years of growth and prosperity General Produce Inc. of Atlanta, GA, is not sitting still. The company began as a purveyor of bananas and has since grown to become one of the Southeast’s larger distributors of produce from apples to zucchini with its own fleet of more than 100 trucks providing overnight delivery to 11 Southeastern states.
“You can’t stop trying to improve — while you’re sleeping at night somebody else is plotting and scheming how to get ahead of you so you’ve got to stay up with it,” said Executive Vice President Randy Lineberger.
Always innovative, General Produce has roamed far afield from its headquarters at the Atlanta State Farmers Market. Today, the company is still a niche specialist, but the niches have grown dramatically. General serves 11 Southeastern states with overnight delivery, has four cross-docks in three states and serves as the de facto produce department for a handful of new independent grocery stores in the Caribbean.
Much of General’s retail business comes from smaller, rural grocers who want to provide their customers the same quality produce their city cousins have. Another good portion comes from fill-in and just-in-time delivery for major Southeastern chainstores.
“It’s an everyday battle to try and help our smaller customers be able to compete with the big chains,” said Derek Powell, General’s head of retail and export sales. “We do a ton of fill-in business with some of these chains and that’s good for us and good for them and also a reassurance that the same quality you get from us anywhere is the same quality you see in the chains — because we’re selling to the chains. We design our program around the same quality, the same standards that you’ll find in any chainstores. That’s what’s helped us grow and we’re proud of that.”
At the same time, a major growth phase between 2000-2007 put General in a position to be selective about the clients it works with.
“Maintaining and just holding our ground right now is what we’re all about. Obviously we’re going out here and exploring new business opportunities but this day in time you need to interview the new business just as much as they’re interviewing you — and if it’s not good for us we don’t need to be doing it. It has to be a complete partnership, we’re all about that,” Mr. Lineberger said.
“Great examples of that would be our partnerships with Super-Valu, Nash Finch and Ira Higdon not to mention all our long-standing customers that we’ve helped become what they are — and they’ve helped us do the same. We had that big growth mode and we topped out in 2007 and since then we’ve just been fine-tuning. I say it often and I’ll say it again, we’re very fortunate to work for a company like this and [owners] the Folds family and we’ve been blessed to keep things going and be profitable even through the hard times. We’re lucky,” he said.