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Quality and integrity keep customers coming to Lipman

Sixty years ago, Max Lipman founded Six L’s in Immokalee, FL, each of the L’s representing one of his three sons and three daughters. Today, the same family still owns the company, but with an eye on the future, it recently rebranded itself as Lipman.

Lipman
Chief Financial and Administrative Officer Toby Purse, Chief Farming Officer Gerry Odell, Chief Marketing and Operations Officer Darren Micelle and Chief Executive Officer Kent Shoemaker of Lipman. (Photo courtesy of Lipman)

“We’ve got many different companies with great traditions under our umbrella and we felt it was time to let the trade and our customers know we’re not just farmers and researchers and developers and packers and repackers and processors, but all of those things,” said Chief Executive Officer Kent Shoemaker. “The Lipman family has owned this business and still owns 100 percent of the stock. We thought about calling the whole company Six L’s, but we decided it was best to come up with a new name, but to put the family name on it. We spent a lot of time discussing that. The Lipman family is very humble and it was actually something I needed to sell a little bit to make sure we wanted to head in that direction. We’re very proud of the tradition Max Lipman began over 60 years ago and we think the name represents our slogan: ‘Refreshingly Dependable.’ We’re going to establish ourselves as a dependable source of fresh, high-flavor, safe tomatoes and other products.”

The renaming applies to all divisions of the company: research and development, farming, processing, repacking and procurement. As a result, subsidiaries, including Custom Pak and RediPlants, will now operate under the Lipman name.

Mr. Shoemaker said the rebranding “signals that we’re beginning the next season of our company. We’re very fortunate that the sacrifices that were made by the generations before us enable us to have the strength position we have right now. We have a board that’s very committed to growth and looking at ways we can expand our geographic and seasonal footprint and our vertical integration, expanding our growing, our packing, our repacking and our value-added footprint throughout North America.”

Lipman commands a large percentage of the $1.28 billion tomato industry and employs approximately 4,000 workers in 22 locations throughout North America.

Said Mr. Shoemaker, “We’re a tomato company, but we grow a significant amount of peppers, squash, beans, citrus, cucumbers. We’re not small in those other areas, but tomatoes are definitely a majority of what we do and who we are.”

The company’s new web site,www.LipmanProduce.com, recently launched and is the first step in Lipman’s on-line rebranding, which will soon include consumer-specific content. The goal is to emphasize Lipman’s vertically integrated network of operations that follows produce from seed to delivery.

“We’re adding some B2C [business-to-consumer] components to our web site so people will be able to come in and scan one of our products and immediately go to a web site and see recipe ideas and other suggestions from storage to handling,” Mr. Shoemaker said. “We want to help our customer by providing ‘Access to the Acreage’. We believe people today want to do business with farmers, not just with somebody who has access to produce. We want our consumer and retail and foodservice customers to literally know what’s going on at the farm.”

In fact, Lipman customers now have a chance to literally visit the farm. The company recently opened the five-acre Lipman Vegetable Garden in Estero, FL, “where we grow every one of the varieties of tomatoes, multiple squashes and peppers and potatoes,” Mr. Shoemaker said. “It’s a place where we can bring customers and even school children on field trips to come see what an entire working farm looks like.”

The garden is also home to Lipman’s research and development facility, which recently expanded. “We’re passionate about continuing to breed the best and most flavorful products,” Mr. Shoemaker said. “And we don’t do any genetic modification at all. It’s the same type of breeding that’s been going on for centuries.”

He continued, “We’re very interested in what’s going on in both the retail and foodservice markets and we believe providing the products our customers are demanding is important so we’re continuing to do extensive reach. Shifting consumer demand is a big factor. We want to make sure we can provide not only those products, but access to information. We’re going to make sure people know what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Lipman has developed a “vintage, beautiful ripe” tomato and is in the final stages of developing a “Campari-type proprietary product” that will come into full production next year, Mr. Shoemaker said.

“We’re very proud of the flavor and the quality our farmers bring to the market. We’ve got a group of farmers who have a lot of tenure with us, most live on the farms they take care of. This isn’t traditional production agriculture, this is life for us, this is who we are,” Mr. Shoemaker said.

“We’ve got a lot of vested interest in maintaining our ground and growing a great product, our farmers and our company take very seriously what we bring to market. People don’t do business with a company because of a name, but because of the quality and integrity and service that company brings to the marketplace,” he said.