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FOREST PARK, GA — A little more than 50 years ago, Hiram Folds saw a niche with a need, found a way to fill it and in so doing created one of the Southeast’s largest retail, wholesale and foodservice produce providers. But General Produce Inc. is still in the business of filling niches.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Folds joined a near-bankrupt supply company that sold nothing but potatoes, citrus and onions. He realized there was a need in Atlanta for a company specializing in bananas and General Produce was born.

GP-2General Produce is the de facto produce department for the new Horsford’s IGA on Nevis in the Caribbean Isles. Many American living abroad previously had barrels of food shipped in from back home. (Photos courtesy of General Produce)Today, the company is still a niche specialist, but the niches have grown dramatically. General serves 11 Southeastern states with overnight delivery, has four cross-docks in three states and serves as the de facto produce department for a handful of new independent grocery stores in the Caribbean.

Much of General’s retail business comes from smaller, rural grocers who want to provide their customers the same quality produce their city cousins have. Another good portion comes from fill-in and just-in-time delivery for major Southeastern chainstores.

“It’s an everyday battle to try and help our smaller customers be able to compete with the big chains,” said Derek Powell, General’s head of retail and export sales. “We do a ton of fill-in business with some of these chains and that’s good for us and good for them and also a reassurance that the same quality you get from us anywhere is the same quality you see in the chains — because we’re selling to the chains. We design our program around the same quality, the same standards that you’ll find in any chainstores. That’s what’s helped us grow and we’re proud of that.”

Also contributing to General’s retail success is the experience factor of the management team.

“Probably the biggest thing that’s helped us is myself and several of the people who work here all have retail experience so when we go to set ads and pick retail products and decide what’s going to work for our retailers we call on that experience because we’ve been there,” Mr. Powell said. “We try to set ads that we think are going to help drive sales, we try to pick product that we think, ‘If it was my produce department I’d be proud to sell that.’”

All of General’s domestic business is next-day delivery “and in a lot of cases here in metro Atlanta same day delivery,” Mr. Powell said.

Meanwhile, General’s retail department is also taking care of Caribbean clients and “the same standards apply to all our exports. We hand-select each lot for those orders to make sure that product has the best chance of making that boat ride and still being the best quality available when it gets there,” Mr. Powell said.

“Every island is different just like in the United States, every customer is different,” he added. “One of the big things we feel has helped us has been we don’t have a cookie-cutter program. We can cater a price sheet for this group or that group, we can create a program for each individual customer and what their particular needs are — both export and domestic — and that’s something a lot of folks don’t do.”