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Quality, service keep Bay Cities Produce rolling along

by Brian Gaylord | March 10, 2009
San Leandro, CA-based Bay Cities Produce Co. Inc. has built a strong reputation during its more than 60 years in business, with most of that time spent as a tenant on the Oakland Produce Market.

The firm carries a full line of fresh, frozen and prepared fruits and vegetables, and it services restaurants and institutions. Foodservice makes up about 60 percent of Bay Cities Produce's business; processing - including custom- processed products - makes up the remaining 40 percent, said Albert Del Masso, the company's founder and president.

Bay Cities Produce has become one of the larger exclusive restaurant purveyors in the San Francisco Bay area, offering a variety of products and cuts to meet virtually any demand by chefs, according to Mr. Del Masso.

In February 2006, the company moved into a 55,000-square-foot facility, which it currently occupies. After years of less-than-ideal conditions doing business on the Oakland Produce Market, Mr. Del Masso determined from the outset that his company's San Leandro facility would be second to none in cleanliness, sanitation and food-safety measures. Having secured top ratings from third-party auditors AIB International Inc. and Silliker Inc., a leading internationally accredited food testing and consulting network, Bay Cities has achieved that goal.

The results have not gone unnoticed: Prospective customers have flocked to Bay Cities Produce seeking to do business with the company, Mr. Del Masso said. But with a desire to properly service its customers - including many longtime customers - Bay Cities Produce has turned away what would be major accounts, he said.

"We've been so overwhelmed with people coming to us," Mr. Del Masso said. "We spent 50 years trying to find business."

Mr. Del Masso credited his wife, Diana, who serves as secretary, treasurer and vice president, and his son Steve, who is vice president, with keeping the business functioning at a high level.

Among Bay Cities Produce's customers are Whole Foods Market Inc. and the restaurant chain Applebee's Services Inc.

Bay Cities Produce has had a great track record of customer retention, Mr. Del Masso said. Still, amid the flurry of activity, sales "have dropped some" recently, he said. In some cases, customers are ordering less, posing a challenge for Bay Cities Produce in overseeing its deliveries since its costs have not declined with the lessening demand.

"We're redoing routes to be more efficient and to get more on the trucks," Mr. Del Masso said. "We're looking at each route and each customer. We can't have 20 drivers with half the load they had."

Still, even with its recent dip in sales, Bay Cities Produce is in an enviable position. "We have no debt," Mr. Del Masso said.

Under the company's profit-sharing plan guided by Mr. Del Masso, the employees on the plan "didn't lose a dime" during the stock market's precipitous plunge in recent weeks, he said.

After a February 2006 move from to a facility in San Leandro, CA, from its long-time location on the Oakland Produce Market, Bay Cities Produce has placed added focus on quality and service. The results have not gone unnoticed, as prospective customers have come calling, looking to do business with the firm.