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Heritage: Youthful future springs from deep roots at Divine Flavor

Deep roots support a booming present; and young, qualified players plan the future. These are the ingredients driving Divine Flavor.

At the core is a close family bond. For decades, the extended branches of the Divine Flavor family tree independently experienced success in agriculture.

Pedro Batiz Sr., a partner and vice president of sales, is at the heart of Divine Flavor — but he is more than willing to share the accolades. Batiz Sr. heaped praise on Alan Aguirre Sr., the firm’s chief executive officer, for his many extraordinary traits that are critical for a successful business.Alta-3 1Enrique Camou Olea and his son, Enrique Camou Mendoza, In a Mexican wheat field about 1949. Already a third-generation agriculturalist, Camou Mendoza became one of three founders of Grupo Alta.

“First,” said Batiz Sr., “is his discipline in all aspects of the business and his passion for perfectionism.”

Batiz Sr. credits the incredible energy and ability of Aguirre Sr., his cousin, for being a driving force of the past and into the future.

“I don’t know how he finds the time to do everything he does, but he does it,” Batiz Sr. said of Aguirre Sr. “He can take a 17-hour flight to spend four or five days in South Africa. Followed by a trip to Israel for another three or four days. Then he’ll go to Italy and Chile and come back to Mexico and be in the office the next morning, ready to go like he had just gone around the corner. His energy level doesn’t drop a bit. He has a different battery than 99 percent of us.”

Batiz Sr. said another Aguirre Sr. strength is his commitment to excellence. “He has taken us to where we are right now. He has been the driving force for the group. Every day is like a final exam for him. While most people slack off on some days, for Aguirre Sr. it’s 365 days.”

Exemplifying Aguirre Sr.’s commitment to excellence, Batiz Sr. recalled a time when driving through a Divine Flavor vineyard with him, “He saw a piece of paper on the ground, he stopped the truck and looked for someone to question about the trash, then he pick up the refuse.”Alta-1In 1989, Enrique Camou, left, watches the planting of the first vineyard in what would become Grupo Alta.

Unused Divine Flavor farm equipment is washed and aligned like soldiers at attention awaiting their next assignment. Aguirre Sr.’s business acumen is in tune with what his customers need as well.

“Alan has an instinct to anticipate the concerns of our customers,” said Batiz Sr. “He has the ability to define his goals very clearly. We understand they’re real goals and we develop teams to execute those goals. That is not easy when you manage 8,000 people.” Batiz Sr. added that Aguirre Sr.’s care for the people is unmatched.

Divine Flavor partners started a foundation to help their workers before Fair trade mattered. They practiced sustainable agriculture before that became a buzzword.

“Thus, the transition to organic, Fairtrade, GlobalGAP certifications was easy because of Alan,” said Carlos Bon Jr. sales manager for Divine Flavor.

Batiz Sr. added that Divine Flavor’s food-safety program is much more in depth than what is required. “Alan’s strict vigor to pack a very good box is an everyday goal,” said Batiz Sr. “He has the capacity to plan every process of all the operations of the value chain. That makes us very competitive with everybody.”

Divine roots
Divine Flavor’s roots can be traced back to Dec. 9, 1933 — the birth of  Enrique Camou. Camou was a successful Sonora farmer of grain, corn, wheat and citrus.Dan-Carlos-BonBrothers Daniel and Carlos Bon, Jr., joined on March 6 in a village in the La Costa area west of Hermosillo, Sonora. A charity for disadvantaged children there was named for their father, Carlos Bon, Sr., who always worked to help other people. The elder Bon was murdered in 2003.

In 1989, Camou invited his two sons-in-law, Alan Aguirre Sr. and the late Carlos Bon Sr., to join him as produce growers in Sonora. At the time, Aguirre Sr. was a Hermosillo egg distributor and Bon Sr. was a tomato and vegetable distributor in Mexico City, Guadalajara and other Mexican cities.

The trio created the company Viñedos Alta (High Vineyard).

Bon Jr. said his grandfather Camou’s invitation to the young men was a perfect idea that paired two men with different abilities to the new partnership. “Alan Aguirre Sr. is a perfectionist and innovator. My father was generous and an excellent caretaker with people. My father really was involved in helping people and he was an excellent commercial strategist.”

Even in the most qualified of families, life isn’t perfect. Viñedos Alta’s attempts to grow and market green beans and watermelon, and later strawberries, didn’t succeed, according to Bon Jr.

Aguirre Sr. switched from green beans and a few vegetables to table grapes 25 years ago. “Since then we have made a commitment to grow this into a world-class business,” said Batiz Sr. “The key to success was producing grapes on property that proved to have early season yields of outstanding quality.”

Camou loved the land, said Bon Jr. “He would thin grapes if he had the time. He wanted to thin the rows himself. He thought he was a mechanic, but he screwed up on a regular basis. My grandfather at harvest time would be so nervous, but you wouldn’t see it on his face.”

Meanwhile, Aguirre Sr. was always involved in the harvest and Bon Sr. was most dedicated to commercial strategy and determining the best markets for different types of fruit. These variables included color, size and bunch structure. Bon Jr. continued, saying that he learned “every grape has a market, and that’s what I do today.”

Grapes by any other names
Viñedos Alta was renamed Grupo Alta in 2000 and Batiz Sr. has worked with Aguirre Sr. since its creation. Batiz Sr. grew up in Culiacán, Sinaloa, and was Bon Sr.’s best friend and nephew, despite being about the same age.ARAI-UVAS-001In 1991, Alan Aguirre posed beside his new company, Viñedos Alta during its first Flame grape harvest.

“Pedro started on the commercial side of the produce business,” said Bon Jr. “When he was in his early 20s, his first job was working with my father on the Guadalajara market.”

In 2004, Divine Flavor LLC was formed as a marketing firm as a natural step toward the vertical integration of Grupo Alta, Batiz Sr. said. “Because we are all related, it made it easy for us to agree on a deal,” he added. “We had a high level of trust among each other.” Batiz Sr., with 30 years of experience in fruit and vegetable sales, became Divine Flavor’s vice president of sales.

Bon Jr. said Batiz Sr. had the best understanding of matching products to markets to differentiate the company. “He was such a valuable key to our business we wanted him as a partner,” said Bon Jr. Batiz Sr. became a partner in 2013.

Bon Jr. credited Batiz Sr. with understanding the need to sell “solutions, not boxes of grapes. And he knew we were not selling food but selling experiences. Pedro really got that. He built a differentiated market.”

Today, Divine Flavor is based in a modern and recently expanded Nogales warehouse. Batiz Sr. and other family members also work from a Divine Flavor sales office in a modern industrial park near San Diego’s border with Mexico.

A hideous turn
The face of Grupo Alta was forever altered in 2003.

Bon Sr., who was seemingly loved by anyone who knew him, was murdered in Mexico. Police never solved the crime but Bon Jr. said a private investigator concluded that jealous competitors were behind to assassination.

“After the passing of Carlos Sr., Alan and I took the responsibility for the well-being of his wife and children,” said Batiz Sr. “The main reason I came to the partnership with Divine Flavor was that Carlos, besides being my cousin, was my best friend. We, Alan included, really cared for each other and our families.”

In 2004, Bon Jr. dropped out of his senior year in college to dedicate his full attention to Divine Flavor. His younger brother, Daniel Bon, entered the production side of the business. Youngest brother, David Bon, now manages Divine Flavor greenhouses in Jalisco, Sinaloa and Baja Norte.

“I am very happy because we are working on a succession plan,” Batiz Sr. said. “I think the boys are maturing fast and they’ll be great for Divine Flavor. They’re all well-schooled and hard-working guys. They have all the tools to take the company to the next level.”

Alan Aguirre Jr. joined the company in 2014. Batiz Sr. noted that the young Aguirre has gone through the process from the bottom up. He became the marketing executive for Divine Flavor two years ago. Now he is beginning to transform the image of the company and work with retailers to better understand their needs and make sure the company meets those needs.

Batiz Sr.’s daughter, Clarisa Batiz, has led Divine Flavor’s organic vegetable department for the past five years. “She is also part of the future of the company,” her father noted. “She is very hard working and prepared. She began from the bottom up. We also have my son, Pedro (Peter) Batiz Jr. He has been a sales assistant for the last three years and is moving into sales.” Another young leader in the firm, Luis Batiz is Pedro Batiz Sr.’s nephew.

“There is no free ticket,” said Batiz Sr. “The incoming family members have to prove themselves and prove they can do their job, based on merit. The children need to love the business to develop a passion. I think they all do. The process of selection is by their capacity and skills to work in the business. No one is guaranteed work unless they meet these conditions.”

In total, there are eight family members part of Divine Flavor. Beyond the family input, Batiz Sr. noted, “I admire Alan because he invests a lot of his time in bringing in family business speakers … people who come from family businesses that have lasted for more than three generations. These speakers talk to us as a group so we can follow the example. Meaning that if you follow that family protocol we will most likely succeed in the future. Then incorporate the children and make sure the business lasts another generation. That is the legacy that Alan wants to leave behind, as part of the heritage of the business.”

Batiz Sr. said the new generation understands the rules and rights, so the business continues for the next generation. “We spend a lot of time on and make the rules to apply to everybody,” he said. “One of those rules is that incoming generation members must first work for two years outside the family business.”

On the farms
Among the major feats of Divine Flavor is the firm’s 2018  plan to increase its vineyard plantings by 53 percent. Divine Flavor had 3,000 acres of grape production before the expansion, which now involves three states: Sonora, Jalisco and Baja Norte. In March, Grupo Alta officially announced the creation of a new organic vegetable subsidiary, Vivaorganica.

Vivaorganica includes all the firm’s organic greenhouse vegetable farms.

The Vivaorganica operation west of Culiacán has 500 acres, much of which remains available for future development. Vivaorganica also has a facility in Jalisco and a third site, near Ensenada, which is 92 miles south of San Diego.