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ProducePete
Pete (Produce Pete) Napolitano

Big Box Farms, a New York City-based start-up firm that installs controlled agriculture plots in warehouses with the goal of bringing fresh, wholesome and pesticide-free salads to market as quickly as 24 hours after harvest, has added produce industry veteran Pete Napolitano to its board of directors. The appointment was made official Oct. 10.

Jordan Motzkin, chief executive officer of Big Box Farms, told The Produce News that the firm is comprised of “a diverse team of young talent and experienced talent, and Pete has extensive experience on both the retail and wholesale sides of the produce industry. He will be working with us directly, as well as with other members of our board.”

Mr. Napolitano has been involved with the produce industry for most of his life. He operated Napolitano’s Produce, a family-owned retail stand in Bergenfield, NJ, from 1971 to 1997. In 2000, he joined S. Katzman Produce on the Hunts Point market in the Bronx, NY, as a fruit and vegetable buyer.

But Mr. Napolitano is best known for his television appearances on WOR-TV Channel 9 and the “Today Show” on NBC as “Produce Pete,” where he doles out tips on fruits and vegetables to the public using a common-sense approach. For example, he advises consumers to look for fruit that is “heavy in the hand” when choosing a piece of citrus.

Mr. Napolitano said that he is approached by many different companies that want him to be involved with their products, but he turns down 90 percent of those offers.

“I am all about what is best for the consumer, and I feel that as an industry, produce has gotten away from that in recent years,” he told The Produce News. “What drew me to Jordan and Big Box Farms is that it is a revolutionary concept and it is great for consumers because they are getting product 24 hours after it is harvested and the product is grown without pesticides. And when you can give the consumer five or six extra days of shelf life [compared to product that arrives from the West Coast], it is tremendous.

“When I look at what Big Box is doing and I see their products, I think to myself, ‘What supermarket is not going to want this?’“ he added.

Mr. Napolitano’s role will initially be working with the management team, but “we are continuing to explore ways for him to be involved with Big Box Farms,” said Mr. Motzkin.

Mr. Napolitano added that while he will begin in an advisory capacity with Big Box Farms, “I could eventually do some endorsements for the products. But consumers are really what will sell these products and the Big Box concept. Success most often comes from word of mouth.”

Mr. Motzkin said that Big Box Farms has been receiving a large number of inquiries from retailers on both the East Coast and the West Coast that are interested in using the start-up firm’s “Homegrown” consumer brand.

While declining to specify which retailers have expressed interest, Mr. Motzkin said that they are among the “biggest and most respected retailers in the country.”