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Julian Sarraino brings fresh ideas to Fresh Taste

TORONTO -- It was somewhat of a trial by fire when Julian Sarraino started working full time at Fresh Taste Produce Ltd. as an apple and grape buyer in May 2008.

Mr. Sarraino, 24, represents the fourth generation at the wholesaler run by the Sarraino family and located here at the Ontario Food Terminal.

"My dad and grandfather threw me right in without a lifejacket and the water was deep with nothing to grab on to," Mr. Sarraino said. "I learned pretty quickly what to do and what not to do."

With his first year under his belt, Mr. Sarraino has learned a lot from his family and the firm's employees, which he also considers to be family. "My first year has been a learning curve, but I appreciate all the knowledge I've been able to obtain from everyone here, including our employees and our customers," he said. "I've had unbelievable mentors, whose knowledge has been absolutely amazing and I hope to continue to learn from them."

He's come a long way from sweeping floors when he was 13 years old during his summer break from school at the firm's warehouse.

"All I was able to do was sweep floors, but the following year I started to assemble orders and each year I graduated" to different responsibilities, he said, proudly noting that he remembered his first sale, a skid of clementines to a local retailer when he was 17.

He now handles buying of California citrus, grapes, strawberries and pomegranates along with Washington state apples, cherries and pears and Florida citrus and berries. He handles floor sales at Fresh Taste as well. Mr. Sarraino credited playing hockey with preparing him for his career in produce.

"I've been playing hockey my whole life," he said, noting he first started when he was three years old.

The right wing said he had an "exceptional" last year when he was 16 for the Toronto Young Nationals, scoring 49 goals in 63 games, which led the AAA level, the highest level one could play in at that age bracket.

Mr. Sarraino turned down several scholarships to play hockey at universities in the United States and instead went to the University of Toronto where he majored in geography with a minor in geographic information systems.

Though this enabled him to continue to work at the family business, it didn't stop him from continuing to play hockey. He was "a power-play specialist" for three years at the university and said he was the player his coach could count on to score a goal and was often put in at the end of the game when the team needed a winning goal.

He will be graduating this month and was looking forward to continuing to play hockey, though that will now mostly be in pick-up games with other guys at the market.

He is also looking forward to using what he's learned to benefit Fresh Taste. Mr. Sarraino noted that the firm has many offshore deals and said he was going to "find a way to implement my knowledge in our company," especially utilizing the best and fastest routes to get products to Canada and obtaining products that might not be easily available.

"Produce is a really cool industry, it's very fast-paced, but it was a pretty easy transition because there are the same aspects of competitive sports in the produce business," he said. "Though I get calls sometimes at 11 at night, I'm consumed in this line of work and I enjoy it. Fresh Taste is a powerhouse now and I want us to continue to grow."