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Peter Grannis furthers his education in the realm of produce

To hear him tell it, Peter Grannis started in produce "before I could walk." The produce specialist with Maines Produce Express in Conklin, NY, credited his father, Gary Grannis, with instilling in him a passion for the trade through years of working together at their family-owned seasonal roadside stand in Endicott, NY.

"My success in the industry is due to the education and the experience I got working with my father at our family farmstand," Mr. Grannis said. "My success in the industry is due to the passion my father has for produce as well as the work ethic he instilled in me."

Mr. Grannis has been with Maines for three-and-a-half years, having first worked for Maines Paper & Food Service Inc., a broadline distributor delivering to 31 states. Maines Produce Express was created three years ago to serve exclusively the produce needs of retailers, wholesalers and foodservice operations, mostly within a 150-mile radius of Binghamton, NY. The two entities operate out of the same facility in Conklin.

Mr. Grannis, who turns 29 this month, lives in Endicott, "right outside of Binghamton," with his wife of six years, Adelia, who is an accountant.

In addition to running the farmstand, his father worked as a produce manager for various retailers and still works for the Wegman's store in Johnson City, NY. The stand is also still in operation, seven days a week from May through September, the younger Mr. Grannis said.

Along with his father, Mr. Grannis works at the stand each summer with his brother David and his uncle Rick Grannis. He is part owner of the stand along with his dad and uncle. "We sell bedding plants, perennials, homegrown strawberries and produce all summer long," he said. The family tries to get most of the stand's product through local farmers, but buys some items through wholesalers and some through Maines, he said.

"I've always had a passion for produce," Mr. Grannis, a graduate of the State University of New York-Cortland with a degree in physical education, told The Produce News. In fact, he pursued a career as a physical education teacher with the notion that such a path would leave his summers free to work on the farmstand.

He had completed his student teaching and "I had about six credits to go for my master's [degree] when Maines pulled me in," he said.

Steve Hitchings, director of produce for Maines Paper & Food, confirmed Mr. Grannis' commitment to the industry. "He is definitely one of the leaders for the future," Mr. Hitchings said. "He's been a very dominant part of making Maines Produce Express successful. You can see it's in his blood."

Mr. Grannis started as a produce manager at Maines' food and party warehouse, then came to the corporate side as produce specialist to "train guys [and] help with sales," he said.

"I enjoyed teaching, and I really loved the coaching," said Mr. Grannis, who coached football and basketball during his student-teaching days at the elementary and middle school levels. "But there was nothing I had the same passion for as produce. I'm able to use a lot of what I learned as a teacher when I do seminars here."

Maines has about 100 salespeople located mostly in New York state and northeastern Pennsylvania, he said. "We do a lot of national account business - Applebee's, cruise line business. I work for both entities. Maines Produce Express is a small division. We have grown since I've been here."

Maines Produce Express sources nationally, he said, noting that he got a lot of his education in that end of the business from Mike Schiano, who, along with Jim Losier, is a primary buyer for the company.

"My buying responsibilities have grown," Mr. Grannis said. "Last January, I took a group of customers to Yuma, Arizona, where we are part of a buying cooperative."

He travels more frequently on business within the 200-mile radius most-served by Maines.

Mr. Grannis sees his relative youth as having certain benefits. "People love the energy that I have," he said. "And I always hear that there just aren't that many young people in produce, so people love to help me, love to teach me."

Since he usually initiates his relationships by phone, clients are often surprised to see how young he is when they meet in person, he said.

"Every day is a different challenge," Mr. Grannis said. "A truck doesn't make it or you find out product got frozen. You're trying to buy the best of the best, but then you have the weather challenges we've had over the past couple of years. Between the transportation and the warehouse, to buy it right, to get it in right and get it to the customer is a whole challenge in itself."

One of the positives is "an outstanding team made up of about 40 individuals," he said. "We have golf tournaments -- one in the spring and the fall. We try to do a few outings a year -- go to a minor league baseball game in the summer, an [American Hockey League] hockey game in the winter. Mike Schiano does a lot of hosting at his house; he loves to cook for anybody he can."

Mr. Grannis appreciates "the incredible growth that Maines Produce Express has had. The first day we had one truck with about 50 pieces," he said. Now, on a daily basis, the company has 12-15 trucks making deliveries six days a week. "Our entire group takes a lot of pride in helping to grow that."

Mr. Grannis honed his work ethic as a teenager when he worked for his uncle Bob Grannis in his wholesale produce and roadside stand business. "That's where I got a lot of my early training. I would be running peaches and other fruit for him," he said.

"Every day was different, every day was new," he continued. "It wasn't something where you punched a clock - it was whatever it took to get the job done."

Mr. Grannis' mother, Donna, was born and raised on a farm in North Dakota. A stay-at-home mom, she helped out -- and still does -- on the family farmstand during the summers.

Mr. Grannis' paternal great-grandfather, Peter Como, came to the United States from Sicily in Italy around 1912. "He gave his occupation as fruit peddler," Mr. Grannis said. "So I'm fourth-generation produce - it's in my genes."

In his leisure time, Mr. Grannis keeps busy with a number of sporting activities and is involved in a couple of tennis leagues as well as a basketball league. He and his wife vacation annually with both sets of parents and their brothers and sisters in Nags Head, NC. "Every September, in prime hurricane season. We frequently have some excitement with the hurricanes," he said with a laugh.

"One of my favorite activities is spending time with my niece, Olivia," Mr. Grannis said. "She's the bright shining star of the family and my parents' only grandchild." Olivia, 2, is the daughter of his sister Karen.

Mr. Grannis acknowledged that he has a reputation as "the produce guy who doesn't eat produce -- there are a lot of vegetables I just don't like. I do eat a lot of fruit though," he said. "My favorite fruits are melons and pineapples -- all the lines that I buy."