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Gourmet Trading's man in Argentina helps put blueberries on the table

Luciano Fiszman is an expert on blueberries. In fact, the 29-year-old agronomy engineer is the expert on blueberries in Argentina for Los Angeles-headquartered Gourmet Trading Co.

Mr. Fiszman began his produce career in 2001 while still a student at the University of Buenos Aires, where he started as a research assistant. "I became a researcher myself in 2004," he said.

He first became acquainted with Gourmet Trading in 2003. The company was founded in 1982 as an importer and distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables. It partners with growers in South America and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Its main offices are located in a 45,000- square-foot cooling facility and warehouse adjacent to Los Angeles International Airport. Mr. Fiszman graduated in 2005, and that fall he traveled to Atlanta for PMA's Fresh Summit, "where I spent my birthday. In March 2006, Chris Martin [president and chief executive officer of Gourmet Trading] hired me to represent Gourmet Trading in Argentina and build our program. So I would say I started at a laboratory level and then I moved to the real world," Mr. Fiszman said.

"I knew since my Day One at college I was going to develop my career in an intensive crop," he added. "I never knew blueberries were in my way. And I love them."

In his role as production manager, as well as Gourmet Trading's official representative in Argentina, Mr. Fiszman manages the firm's blueberry program there. "I am in charge of getting the growers, checking the quality, choosing the packaging, organizing the shipments and keeping close to logistics - especially international logistics, an area in which I developed myself a lot. I also help with the program of blueberries out of Chile from inside." In addition, he has worked on past Gourmet Trading programs in Argentine asparagus.

His career keeps him busy, and constantly on the go, in two hemispheres. "I travel quite a bit," he acknowledged. "I travel to the States twice a year, Chile every two months. I've traveled to Brazil, Uruguay and Peru, all of these for work. And I travel every two weeks to the countryside of Argentina."

One memorable trip took place in August 2007, when he and several colleagues rented a five-seat jet, as business required that they visit multiple farms and locations in a short period of time. "We experienced 100 degrees in Tucuman [in northern Argentina] and three days later we traveled to Pucon [in Patagonia in southernmost Chile] where snow was everywhere and we experienced 25 degrees!" Two days later the team flew to Peru, the same day a historic 8.0-magnitude earthquake took place there. The quake "destroyed some areas big time," Mr. Fiszman said. "Man, what a trip."

Mr. Fiszman's early work experience prepared him well for the concept of teamwork. "My first job was as a basketball coach. I was 15 years old," he said. "I know basketball is common in the United States, but it is not in Argentina - or it used not to be as ordinary as it is now that we have Manu Ginobilli," a member of the Argentine men's national basketball team and player for the San Antonio Spurs "and others in the NBA. I love sports and I have played basketball and futbol (soccer) since I remember."

In addition to team effort, he cited responsibility, passion and joy as some of the qualities imparted to him by coaching and applicable to meeting some of the challenges in his current position.

The primary goal "was first to establish the company in the ground in Argentina," Mr. Fiszman said. "[We] keep pushing to expand the business and grow the market share [to] get better quality season after season and get our customers satisfied."

The rewards make the effort worthwhile. "We are expanding fast, and that is a big reward," he said. "Four years ago we had a 30,000-pound-program, and last season we had a 1.7 million-pound program with 10 percent market share. We also work with the most refined growers in the country, and having them on board is a result of hard work, and I feel rewarded."

Mr. Fiszman said that his relative youth -- he turns 30 in November -- has worked to his advantage. "I am hungry, and I have the go-for-it attitude. I also think my mind was ready to be set up, and Chris [Martin] likes that.

Mr. Fiszman lives in Buenos Aires with his wife, Romina, and their two children, son Joaquin, age 2, and daughter Faustina, age 2 months. "I love to spend time with my family -- we visit relatives and we like to have lunch or dinner. We play soccer with Joaquin and we enjoy the swimming pool with the family in the summer," he said.

He admitted to being a bit of a sports nut. "I truly think sports give you character, passion, timing, patience, leadership in some cases and the concept of team effort and working in a team," he said. "I love sports. I play futbol and basketball every week. I am a big fan of Estudiantes de La Plata, and I have a seat at the stadium. I go every two weeks when we play home for the Argentinean championship and I go also to see my team in the Libertadores de America Cup (Latin-American Cup). We are a group of 12 people that we go together everywhere to see Estudiantes. It is a big deal," he said with a laugh. "It is a lot of fun, and then we go to have dinner."

Maybe blueberries are on the menu.