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Coast Produce lures Jerry Wagner out of retirement

Jerry Wagner, who retired Aug. 9 as director of sales and marketing at Farmer's Best International LLC in Nogales, AZ, after 27 seasons with the company, has joined Los Angeles-based Coast Produce Inc. as vice president of business development.

Wagner told The Produce News Feb. 6 that he had a meeting last fall with John Dunn, owner of Coast Produce and Dunn asked "if I would lend a hand" in helping the company achieve some of its goals.

Jerry-WagnerJerry Wagner"I have been dealing with Coast Produce for decades and built up a real good relationship with them, so I am excited about the opportunity to join the team," Wagner said. "They already have a very strong team. It is just a matter of going out and helping them improve on their customer base and look at some opportunities that they may be missing."

Wagner said he will be based out of his home on a small ranch in Santa Cruz County in Arizona, but will do traveling for the company, calling on customers and prospective customers, "in the near future."

Wagner has been in produce since 1973. "I worked for my father at Wagner Distributing till 1978, then joined Western Fruit Sales, which was a division of A. Duda & Sons," he said.

He was with that company for five years, then Western Fruit Sales pulled out of Nogales and a grower opened up a distribution company, San Luis Distributing, in the same space.

"I still had the same desk" and worked for San Luis Distributing for the next five years, he said. "Then I joined Farmer's Best in October of 1987."

Wagner said he was "fully anticipating enjoying retirement" when Dunn asked him to help out at Coast Produce.

"The owner, John Dunn reached out to Jerry after a relationship that spans back about 20 years," Mike Ito, chief executive officer of Coast Produce, told The Produce News Feb. 7.

Coast Produce had been "pivotal in marketing [the Farmer's Best] product line here in Los Angeles, and they developed a very good, sound relationship," said Ito. "What Jerry brings is certainly his leadership skills and his insights" into produce marketing, having had the opportunity to work with several organizations throughout the country.

"The plan is for Jerry and I to be traveling and looking at business development," Ito said.

In Los Angeles, Coast Produce is a consolidator and mixer, but in addition to providing products for customers, "we also have ... a very robust in-house marketing and merchandising [team]" consisting of retail specialists with years of experience, according to Ito.

Among Cost Produce's customer base are commissaries throughout several western states, Ito said. "We have 23 of our own retail merchandisers in the units." Drawing on that expertise, "we have been able to help retailers, both small independents and some of the larger companies, offering a full suite of services" including logistics, programs, point-of-sale and other retail support.

The company has received several requests from retailers and wholesalers locally and out-of-state who are aware of the services Coast Produce provides to the commissaries and who are "looking for that retail expertise" and help in expanding their businesses, he said.

Some of the wholesalers are asking "for our help for sourcing and to help provide some of the retail solutions they can offer to some of their potential customers," said Ito.