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Grant J. Hunt Co. celebrating 75th anniversary as fruit distributor

by | February 02, 2009
As it marks its 75th year in 2009 as a domestic and international produce distributor, the Grant J. Hunt Co. continues its attention to quality and hands- on service as it moves ahead in technology and efficiency.

"We are celebrating 75 years from the official launch of the Grant J. Hunt Co. near the San Francisco Terminal Market. My family has actually been in the industry since my great-great grandfather first started delivering our fruits and vegetables to San Francisco via ferry boats in the early 1900s," company President Grant M. Hunt said in a press release.

While delivery methods and business processes have changed over the past seven decades, the passion for produce continues to run strong through the operation.

"I grew up in the world of produce," Mr. Hunt continued. "I went to PMA conventions when I was just a kid with my father, and I can't imagine another career path that would have introduced me to so many great people."

Grant M. Hunt and his father, Jim Hunt, are one of two father-son combinations that have served as PMA chairmen. Jim was chairman in 1980, and Grant was chairman in 1999.

Today, the Grant J. Hunt Co. is headquartered in Oakland, CA, with offices in The Dalles, OR, Yakima, WA, and Kirkland, WA. The Dalles office opened in 1996 and marked the emergence of the company as a major cherry distributor both domestically and internationally.

Serving initially as the exclusive sales and marketing agency for Orchard View Farms, Grant J. Hunt has expanded its cherry program to include Blue Mountain Growers in Milton-Freewater, OR, and Spring Creek Orchards in Hood River, OR.

The program has grown from fewer than 200,000 20-pound-equivalent boxes in 1996 to an estimated 1.2 million to 1.5 million boxes for 2009. Additionally, the distributor has exclusive apple, Italian prune and plum deals out of the Pacific Northwest.

From its Oakland office, the company offers a full range of produce, including apples, pears, onions, potatoes, kiwifruit, citrus, melons, Italian chestnuts and berries.

"We partner with companies across the world that are either growers themselves or are grower-focused like we are," said Salvatore (Sal) Rizzo, executive vice president of Grant J. Hunt Co.

Mr. Rizzo continued, "It is the growers who truly deserve the credit for our 75 years."

Notably, Mr. Rizzo began his career with the Grant J. Hunt Co. on March 1, 1980 - the same day as Grant Hunt.

Mr. Hunt said that it is the company's continuing evolution that has allowed it to succeed for 75 years.

"This is an ever-changing industry, and unless you're willing to change and lead with the times, they pass you by," Mr. Hunt said. "We've seen competitors come and go and accounts come and go. We don't take any of our business for granted, and we always look for solutions to help make our customers more successful."

Company Vice President Maurice Protzen added that the creation of a dedicated marketing department in 2006 filled a niche for customers and shippers.

"A lot of staffs are so overworked that they don't have time to think creatively and outside the box," Mr. Protzen said. "Our marketing department works closely with our sales team to help implement promotions, create market updates and work more with our customer base. And our customers really appreciate this extra service, which has helped us forge stronger relationships and build business."

Last fall, the Grant J. Hunt Co. opened an office in the Seattle area, which allowed the operation to pursue more international programs, particularly on the import side.

"Every year, we'd have growers and companies approach us about handling their imports, and we decided to make a full-fledged leap this year," Mr. Hunt said. "Opening another Northwest office gives us the extra resource needed to expand our import apple program, and we launched our largest Chilean cherry effort to date."

And in kicking off the new year, Mr. Hunt said that "value" is a key word with retailers. He added that fresh produce is both a value and a treat.

"The current economic situation is driving a lot of customers to look at value opportunities," he said. "This is most obvious in the sales increases we've witnessed with bagged items. However, I feel produce is an item where people will treat themselves. When a customer walks by a beautiful display of fresh, dark red, sweet cherries, they can't help but pick them up and figure they are worth this little splurge."