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Combs Produce is looking to the future as it builds on the past

Four years ago, Brett Combs came to the conclusion that he would need to bring in strategic partners with a track record of growing companies to take Dallas-based Combs Produce, which was founded by J.C. Combs over 50 years ago, to the next level. He found those partners in Jay Pack, formerly of Standard Fruit & Vegetable, and CIC Partners, a Dallas-based private equity firm with a strong track record in produce and foodservice.

In April 2010, they brought in Chief Executive Officer Jeff Partridge, who worked with the existing team and several other newcomers to strategically plan for the next phase of Combs’ success.

“Combs has a great legacy. One that creates a tremendous foundation from which to grow,” said Mr. Partridge. “The board and leadership team spent the last six months developing a strategic plan that builds on that legacy and positions us for the future. Along the way, we have added some exceptional talent to our already high-performing team: Van Argiros, our new vice president of sales and marketing, formerly of The Produce Exchange; and Martin Moreno, formerly with Meier, who joined as new director of our Hispanic category. Collectively, we are very excited about the future.”

Part of that strategy, according to Mr. Argiros, “is to make it clear [that] our mission is delivering fresh solutions, working with the individual customer and tailoring our programs and offerings based on what the customer needs to be successful. We’re looking at business not from a transactional standpoint, but from a relationship-building standpoint. As we continue to expand our services, everything ties back to our core values: trustworthiness, dependability and an enthusiastic work environment where every associate is aligned and working for a common goal and direction.”

Chief Operating Officer Doug Dobbs is another new face, having joined Combs in August 2010. The rest of the management team includes long-time stalwarts Steve Fleming, who “was here when I got here, was our tomato buyer for 20 years and was an integral part in growing the business,” Mr. Combs said; James Baker, who “has been here since 1992 and is a significant contributor to our foodservice growth;” and Ronnie Gaubatz, head of operations and one of the original partners in the business, “who today manages the operations of our tomato division. Ronnie was integral in our food-safety program and keeping the overall operation running smoothly.”

Mr. Argiros said, “Our expanded delivery network allows us to touch seven states daily. We have an exceptional food-safety program that Brett was instrumental in putting together years ago — before most in the industry had detailed, food-safety programs in place. We take pride in the high standards we have created with our traceability and food-safety programs, and understand it’s not only a requirement but a social obligation to our customers that they are receiving the freshest and safest products daily from Combs. We are Primus Platinum certified and fully GTIN compliant.”

“Although we are known for tomatoes, our business is much more than tomatoes as we are positioning the company as a service provider that can meet the needs of our customers in a number of ways. Our vision is to be recognized as the region’s leading produce partner,” Mr. Argiros said. “By delivering fresh solutions, we are creating a company and a culture that is focused on expanded services to our customers in both foodservice and retail segments. Our services include Hispanic programs, specialty sourcing and inventory management, repacking and private-label capabilities, ripening programs, full-line sourcing, as well as short replenishment needs. By offering a wide selection of services, we have the ability to help provide solutions to our customers while growing long-standing relationships that are mutually rewarding. We believe these services and offerings will position Combs for the future, and we are excited about the opportunities in front of us.”