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According to Phillip Brooks, "The highlight of the year for us as a company" was having a second produce firm, Brings Co., move into the same New Brighton, MN, facility as H. Brooks & Co. Brings Co. and its employees moved into Brooks' warehouse on April 24. Mr. Brooks, chief executive officer of H. Brooks, said that Brings has kept its own corporate identity. Brings President Pat Coan runs the company, as always, and Beth Arel remains Brings’ sales manager.

Since the Brings move, a new bagging line for onions has been placed. “The equipment is part of Brings,” Mr. Brooks said. “They have had connections for 40 years in the onion business, so that is going along well.”

H. Brooks this year was recognized as Vendor of the Year by the Minnesota Grocers Association. Two weeks later, the Wisconsin Grocers Association also named H. Brooks as Vendor of the Year. Mr. Brooks said it was the first time a company received this honor from both states.

“It’s a high honor to be nominated and selected by your customers,” Mr. Brooks observed.

He said there are a variety of reasons his firm can relate so well to its retail clientele.

“Most important is our connection with vendors over 40 years. That is an important link. We are recognized for taking leadership and having achievements in helping people grow their business. One of the main things we have done is a lot work with retailers to help them get the products, the ideas, the techniques and the freshness to help them draw business to their stores and operations and to take the bumps out of produce, so they can be confident of freshness and quality. It is one thing to sell produce and another to have the culture we created. We care about the customers and help them succeed in their businesses.”

Mr. Brooks continued, “We have many people who have a depth — a thorough knowledge — of produce and an understanding of how the retail business works. We can be an adviser.”

Furthermore, he said, “The other thing is that this is really family. The company is family and when people buy from us they feel like family — and we view them as part of the family. We go to great lengths to make them achieve what is best for their business.

“It is very important to the secret sauce here that, within the business, we have many people who are second-, third- and even fourth-generation with us. And we have customers and relationships that go all the way throughout so many years and, really, they are part of the family and we feel they part of the family. That is a big part of what makes us work.”

Mr. Brooks noted that his daughter, Nina Brooks, has worked part-time or full-time in the company for 13 years, having started when she was 16. She was honored this year by being selected to be a part of the United Fresh Leadership Program.

But, he hastened to add that there is more to his company that his family.

“It is about other families too. There are so many great people here that I don’t want to upstage them. No one person makes it happen. It’s like a country music guy said on an awards show a couple days ago — 'A turtle on a fence post didn’t get there by himself.’ When a company receives recognition it is the result of so many people working together.”

Asked about Brooks & Co.’s business level this year, he responded, “I would say we are growing and we have done a lot of things this year to get us ready for the future. We have added a woman with a master’s degree in food safety so we are at the top in food safety.” The firm has enhanced its phone, computer, software and warehouse systems “to continuously improve the business — to do better all the time.”

Mr. Brooks said that his firm is involved “behind the scenes” to help some people in the Twin Cities who need help. This includes organizing shippers at times such as this Thanksgiving to work with National Football League Minnesota Viking linebacker E.J. Henderson to “help people in need.”

As far as contributing to society, Mr. Brooks noted that “Most of all, the most important thing we do is provide jobs for people and make a great place to work.”

Coming news for the firm is “the expansion in our fresh-cut offerings. We are developing new products that haven’t hatched yet,” he said.