Whether it’s her family, friends, clients or customers, Monica Robles of Gourmet Trading Co., a Los Angeles-based grower and distributor of fresh green, white and purple asparagus, blueberries and SuperBlues, always puts people first.
“In this industry, and especially with asparagus being scarce for the most part of the year, it is essential to have a good relationship with the growers,” Robles told The Produce News.
To say customer service is Robles’ strong suit would be an understatement. Despite being a product of the millennial generation, which is typically known for its love of all things text, Twitter and social media-related, the 26-year-old procurement buyer/commercial manager still values the importance of “old-school” communication.
“Meeting my growers face-to-face has greatly improved my relationships with them,” she said. “I talk to each of my growers every day and now I can put a face to the person on the other line.”
Robles currently handles the procurement of asparagus from Peru, Ecuador and Mexico for Gourmet Trading Co., but the produce industry isn’t always where she pictured herself working. What started out as a temporary job has now — six years later — turned into a permanent career.
“I never thought that I would work in the produce industry,” she acknowledged. “It was supposed to be a temporary job until I transferred to California State University-Northridge, however I was too happy to leave when I did transfer.”
Robles said the industry quickly captivated her by teaching her new and exciting things each day, which in turn persuaded her to enter the business full time.
“I was learning different things every day and the world behind produce was fascinating,” Robles said. “People don’t really know what their produce goes through before it gets to the store. It’s like creating a masterpiece getting the asparagus from the grower, onto a plane, into the country, and to the store. It’s a good feeling when I can procure good-quality product at a good return to the grower and our company, and still allow sales to provide a good deal to their customers.”
One of the best ways Robles has found to learn more about the industry and her clients is to travel. When The Produce News spoke with her in early September, her near-future business trips included attending the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit convention in New Orleans in October, followed by a visit to her clients in Peru in November.
Robles said her business trips can be demanding, but the time spent visiting and meeting with clients is well worth it.
“These relationships are all about trust,” she said. “When I give them a price, they need to trust that I am giving them the best price in the market.”
And the best way for Robles to build that trust is by witnessing first-hand what the grower-process is all about.
“These [business trips] have allowed me to truly understand their perspective,” she continued. “Being a grower is expensive and not easy. When I put a price behind a box, I can do it more confidently knowing exactly what I am paying for.”
As for whether or not her relative youth helps or hinders her role as a procurement buyer, Robles said that although it may be a little intimidating to know that other buyers in the market have more experience, it just motivates her to do research, learn more, fight harder and be better.
“I believe my age has allowed me to come into this industry with an open mind and willingness to learn,” she said. “This world is changing rather quickly and all industries need fresh thinking to adapt and prevail.”
So what’s her advice for other up-and-comers looking to make their mark in the produce industry? Well, that’s simple. “Dream high, work hard and never settle,” she said.
And when she’s not doing that herself, Robles spends her time outside of work focusing on those who matter most in her life — her husband of two years and their three Pomeranian pups — proving, once again, that she truly knows the value and importance of good relationships.