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Eric Kimes brings Latin American life experience to work

Eric Kimes spent his formative years in Guatemala from age seven to 17 learning about melons from his father. It was an education that comes in handy today.

Eric?s father, Michael Kimes, "has been a grower of melons for 20 years in Latin America," with much experience selling fruit into the export market, Mr. Kimes said.

Together, father and son launched Continental Produce in February 2004, with a lone office in Carmel, CA. Mr. Kimes? sister, Michele, also works for the company as sales coordinator.

Mr. Kimes, 27, described the operation as a broker and shipper of melons, specializing in procuring cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew from Central America and South America for the U.S. retail, wholesale and foodservice markets. Fruit salad for foodservice is a big part of the company?s business, he said. Continental Produce sources its product from countries including Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Costa Rica and Chile.

Michael Kimes does much business traveling in these countries, though Eric Kimes travels alone to these countries representing the company as well. As the lone salesperson for the five-person operation, Eric Kimes spends much of his day on the phone speaking in Spanish.

?I love the day-to-day grind," Eric Kimes said. "My best days start at 4:30 [a.m.] and the phones are jamming at 5:30 [a.m.]."

Mr. Kimes said that his role procuring melons from Latin America is aided greatly by his experiences growing up in Guatemala.

?The cultural side is more important " knowing what?s important to them," Mr. Kimes said. Taking a personal interest in his customers helps in gaining their trust, he said. For example, because soccer is an important part of the fabric of Latin American culture, he keeps abreast of the outcomes of games so he can talk intelligently on the topic.

For Continental Produce, the greatest interest lies in Chilean melons, Mr. Kimes said. "We?re able to get phenomenal-tasting melons? from Chile, Mr. Kimes said.

Mr. Kimes attended California Polytechnic State University, where he graduated in 1999 with a degree in agribusiness with a concentration in marketing. He also has a master?s degree in business administration from Pepperdine University and a master?s degree in finance from ITESM " known as "Monterrey Tech? " in Monterrey, Mexico. While at Cal Poly, Mr. Kimes played on the polo team for four years.

Of his experience growing up in Guatemala, Mr. Kimes said it was "a great place to grow up," adding that life has been so much richer for him "than the average bear my age." The student body at his high school had 53 countries represented, Mr. Kimes said.

As a kid, he enjoyed fishing in Belize, taking trips to Honduras and surfing in Costa Rica. Mr. Kimes said that he got the surfing bug from his mother, Victoria, a former surfer. Mr. Kimes describes his father as a native of Salinas, CA, and a "cowboy," adding that his father undoubtedly influenced his polo playing in college.

Prior to launching a business with his father, Mr. Kimes worked as a grape shipper for Pavich Family Farms in Bakersfield, CA, and as a sales coordinator for several years at Orion Pacific Traders in Walnut Creek, CA.

His role with Orion was a great learning experience, he said. Orion sent Mr. Kimes " then 22 or 23 " to Santiago, Chile, to buy fruit and quote and sell it to Asia during the Chilean summer season. He exported fruit to Asia, handling a multitude of duties while gaining valuable experience handling the logistics of coordinating boats and trucks for shipping, he said.

In his spare time, Mr. Kimes likes to hike, surf, play guitar and hang out with his girlfriend, Amy Plant.