Providing the best quality product and ensuring the safety of the food supply are the two main points that Richard Ruiz focuses on when running his business.
But the president of Ruiz Sales in Edinburg, TX, believes the responsibility needs to be shared throughout the supply chain.
"As an industry, we need to look at the overall bottom line, and the reason we are in business, and that is providing a product that is healthy, flavorful and, most important, safe," said Ruiz. "Anything less and we are failing the consumer, and not only that, we are cheating them."
Additionally, he believes that proper training throughout the supply chain is more important than ever.
"At Ruiz Sales, we have regular staff meetings to both thank our employees for their hard work and to review things that need to be improved," he said. "Retailers must also look to improve the way they do things, and that includes better training at the store level."
Ruiz said that the culture of change in this regard must come from the top — the CEO level at a corporation — because without direction from above, changes will not occur.
"Commitment to quality and food safety must be 24/7, not just once a year during a scheduled audit — that is the responsibility of every supplier," he said. "And retailers need to make sure they are working with reputable suppliers that value consumers' needs and place an emphasis on food safety."
Ruiz pointed out that the produce industry is in a unique position of achieving success while making a healthier nation.
"If any industry has an opportunity to capitalize on a movement toward better health, it is ours," said Ruiz. "We need to make sure we take advantage of this opportunity, because it will help our industry and the citizens of the United States. We can help improve the health of the nation and drive down health care costs by promoting produce consumption, which will benefit everyone."
He also said that cutting corners and selling inferior product costs consumers, suppliers and retailers more in the long run.
"Look at it this way. If a consumer pays $8 for a bag of poor-quality limes and ends up throwing half away, that bag actually costs them twice as much," he said. "But if a bag of top-quality limes costs a little more, it is a good value since they are able to use all of the product. And they will have a good experience and most likely will come back to buy again."
Ruiz believes that things have improved during the past year with regard to companies becoming serious about traceability and food safety.
"People are starting to realize that everyone benefits from doing the right thing," he said. "Consumers are getting a better product that makes them healthier, and sales are increasing as a result, and the industry is making more money."
Ruiz Sales is a distributor of tropical products from Mexico, and the recent lime market, which has seen cartons topping $120, has proven to be challenging. But Ruiz said relief is in sight.
"It is still very high, but it should be coming down week by week," he said in late April. "The fruit had some problems with all the rain and cold weather that hit Mexico from October to December. And once supplies were down and prices shot up, a lot of the growers started picking early, so fruit size was small.
"But we work with our growers year-round and we pay fast, and so we were able to get the fruit and supply our customers," he added. "It really comes down to communicating with our customers and making them aware of what is going on."
Ruiz said one of the highlights of the year has been the Produce for Better Health Foundation's recent annual dinner, where Ruiz Sales was recognized as an Industry Role Model for the second year in a row.
"I share the PBH philosophy of needing to take care of the moms and kids out there, and it also realizes that any changes at companies must come from the top at the CEO level. I am proud to be involved with the organization."