It all began over 60 years ago when Dale DeBerry started working in the onion business. He learned the ropes from some experienced veterans and quickly headed out on his own to begin selling onions. And sell onions he did — to anyone and everyone — in every form you could think of. A true Texas gentleman filled with southern charm, he was the perfect salesman and quite an evangelist for the then-humble onion.
What was most notable about Mr. DeBerry in the 1970s and early 1980s was his keen sense of what the market needed. His ideas and charisma quickly translated into results. He helped champion some early innovations in the onion business, which included collaborating on the development of what we know today as the “bloomin’ onion,” as well as being one of the first onion companies to PLU sticker and carton fresh onions for consumer branding.
Mr. DeBerry instilled that same passion for the produce business in his son Curtis, who began working with Dale early in his career but quickly flew the nest with the same fierce and independent spirit that Dale had shown years earlier. But the lessons were well taught. From his father, Curtis had learned the importance of relationships with growers and customers.
When Curtis set out on his own, he utilized the skill set he knew best: building relationships, treating people fairly and selling, selling, selling. Curtis quickly became known throughout Texas and Mexico as he built a strong onion and watermelon sales business.
Like his dad, Curtis had the gift to see opportunity as well as the gift to sell. By the early 1990s, Curtis saw the emerging Mexico produce market and the Texas ports of entry as having huge market potential. Curtis also saw the growing importance of extending beyond his role as a sales agent and the need to be invested in the growing process. Curtis quickly adapted his business model and began partnering with growers throughout Mexico and Texas to expand from being a single sales agent of watermelons and onions to being a grower-shipper-importer of a variety of products, including vegetables, melons and onions.
For over 30 years, the business model has stayed similar. Curtis is still on the ground, in the fields and in the stores, seeing what customers need and making it happen. That focus on service and delivery has shaped and reshaped the growing locations and product mix over the years, most recently with the expansion of Progreso’s year-round berry program, which includes strawberries, blueberries and blackberries from Florida, California, Georgia, Michigan, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
Progreso continues to focus on core items — onions, watermelons and berries — but also has seasonal and year-round availability of carrots, cabbage, broccoli and honeydew. Progreso grows and markets onions from every major U.S. and Mexican growing region to offer a year-round category solution that includes a consumer packaging strategy to help consumers select correct varieties based on use. Watermelons are available year-round from Mexico, Texas, Florida and New Mexico.
Today, Progreso Produce has sales offices in Florida and Texas, and growing locations throughout the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America, maintaining new relationships as well as some of the original relationships that were established with grower-partners over 30 years ago.
These growing partnerships and diversified growing regions help minimize risk and guarantee availability and quality so Progreso can work with customers to meet pricing and quality expectations. Progreso’s size and scope allow it to work with customers of all sizes to develop long-term contracts and weekly and daily pricing.
It is clear that company growth has been a priority, but a commitment to the greater-Texas produce industry has also been a priority. Both Dale and Curtis have been actively involved in the Texas Produce Association, serving in a variety of roles and working on local, national and international issues, including NAFTA.
With continued plans for expansion into new growing regions and products, Progreso has no plans to slow its pace of growth. What remains the same is that it is still a family business and three generations of DeBerrys work side by side with the same commitment to service built on the foundation of relationships. Only time will tell how the third generation of the DeBerry family will shape the future of the family business and the Texas produce industry.