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Eaton & Eustis says produce business success is all about strong relationships

Anthony Sharrino

Anthony Sharrino, president of Eaton & Eustis Co., located on the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, MA, told The Produce News that the company is well-known for its major onion program, including sweet onions from all areas of the country as well as offshore.

“We handle all of the popular sweet onions, including Vidalias, Walla Walla and Peruvian sweet onions,” Mr. Sharrino said on Oct. 28. “We also handle a full line of garlic products — fresh and peeled — all of which are sourced from California. We’ve been doing business with Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California, for many years.”

The company was founded in 1880. Mr. Sharrino’s grandparents began working for Eaton & Eustis when they emigrated from Sicily in 1906, and they bought the company in 1910.

Mr. Sharrino is the third generation of family members to own and operate the firm.

Eaton & Eustis Co. also handles coconuts, fresh ginger and a full line of dried fruits and nuts in the shell. The majority of its dried fruits and nuts are sourced domestically. It also does significant business in fresh chestnuts that are sourced from the major importers of the item.

Mr. Sharrino noted that garlic has undergone a major transition over the past several years.

“California garlic growers kind of cut back in production for several years because China was giving it away,” he said. “But in 2010, China fell short of supplies, which put pressure on California. But growers there were dedicated to taking care of existing and loyal customers first. Shortage caused prices to jump pretty high for a while.”

Chinese garlic supplies remained tight and prices stayed high until just a couple of months ago when the Chinese once again opened the flood gates, Mr. Sharrino added.

“The guys who handle Chinese garlic are back to just about giving it away,” he said. “But California has made a strong comeback. And customers realize that you can’t compare Chinese garlic to California product — the California garlic is simply far superior, and most of our foodservice customers request it today. There is also the issue of traceability with Chinese garlic, of which some people are questioning the reliability.”

Mr. Sharrino said that the New England Produce Center has gone through a major transition over the past couple of decades.

“The changes had to happen through attrition,” he explained. “Major retail chains were opening up their own warehouses and buying direct just as consumers were beginning to dine out more. Over the years, our customer base shifted somewhat to the foodservice and wholesale sectors. You would not know that there’s an economic downturn in New England, as the restaurant industry continues to do extremely well here.”

Today, Eaton & Eustis Co.’s customer base is about half retail stores and half foodservice operators. Included in its retail business are the smaller, independently owned stores.

Heading into November, the company is moving Italian chestnuts heavily for the upcoming holiday season.

Mr. Sharrino said that success in the fresh produce business is all about strong and healthy relationships.

“We’ve been doing business with Christopher Ranch for over 30 years,” he said. “My father gave Sal Vacca, president of A.J. Trucco in New York, his first order around 1949. Today, he is a major source of chestnuts and other products for us. Sal calls this office every morning at 5:00 a.m. — even if he’s on vacation in Italy — just to stay in touch.

“Maintaining strong and loyal relationships in this business is key to doing great business,” Mr. Sharrino continued. “We pride ourselves on the mutual dedication that has been formed with our partners in this industry throughout our history.”