Allan Napolitano started working for Vision Import Group LLC in River Edge, NJ, in December as a sales associate. The 26-year-old attended Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, NJ, and after graduating went to Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY, where he graduated in 2007 with a degree in business management and a minor in marketing.
“Attending Don Bosco is a family tradition,” said Mr. Napolitano. “My father, Allan S., attended, as did my three brothers. The youngest is now finishing his freshman year.”
Vision Import Group was not his first job after graduating, but his position as sales associate is far from being his initiation into the produce industry.
“My father manages the New Jersey office for Sunterra Produce Traders East in Harrington Park, [NJ]“ explained Mr. Napolitano. “My mother, LuAnne, is the sister of Pete Napolitano who is ‘Produce Pete’ on “Weekend Today” on WNBC in New York. My mother grew up working in our family’s general retail store, Napolitano’s Produce, which was in Bergenfield, New Jersey.”
Mr. Napolitanosaid he grew up in his grandfather’s company, Samuel S. Napolitano Inc., in Englewood, NJ.
“When I was very young I was sweeping floors and stocking when I wasn’t in school,” he said. “When I was around 10, I went on deliveries with my grandfather in the summers. We would head out to the Hunts Point market [in the Bronx, NY] in the early-morning hours, and then started making deliveries around 6 a.m. He’d drop me off at home at about 7 p.m., and I’d sleep until he woke me up — by honking his horn well before dawn. The produce industry is in my DNA.”
Mr. Napolitano remembers joining his grandfather in what is now a rare and virtually extinct practice: produce peddling.
“We drove to apartment buildings and communities and sold produce out of the back of the truck,” he said. “I also worked in the produce business throughout college on weekends to pay my tuition. I sold plum tomatoes out of southern New Jersey, and in the fall I delivered juice grapes for winemaking.”
After graduation he entered the corporate world when he took a job with Sony Corp. of America at its Park Ridge, NJ, office. Starting in an entry-level position, he quickly worked his way up the ranks to a marketing role and then into partnership management and business development with the title of business development liaison. He traveled regularly to Manhattan, and frequently to Canada and Los Angeles.
“I was with Sony for four years,” said Mr. Napolitano. “One day my dad, who is friends with Ronnie Cohen and Raul Millan, partners in Vision Import Group, mentioned they had expressed interest in hiring someone in their sales department. They interviewed me and we hit it off nicely. I accepted their offer and came on board.”
He said there was something that seemed to always be pulling him back to the produce business, but his experiences at Vision Import Group are quite new to him.
“I am working on the import side of the business, doing cold-calling and developing new customers with the items I handle: limes, mangos, pineapples, lemons and Spanish clementines,” he said. “The tropical trend is exciting, and although I was familiar with it, I’m learning in an in-depth way about growing seasons, locations and the different conditions that can affect product and movement. It’s a necessity to know these details because they can change movement quickly and the programs come on fast.”
He said he’s also learned the importance of developing a personal niche that differentiates him from competitors.
“Vision Import handles extremely high-quality product,” he said. “Anyone can handle business when things are running smoothly, but when problems arise you have to handle them properly for your customers. The relationships and passion for what we do make the difference.”
Although he works full-time, many times on Saturdays and is available to customers 24/7, he has found time for outside interests. He was elected a councilman of his home town, Harrington Park, NJ, last November.
“I know this is a political position, but I look at it as a volunteer activity,” he explained. “I wanted to give back to my community, and this was my avenue. I love the town, and I want to help keep it a positive place for people to live and work.”
As a part of his responsibilities on the council, he is also the fire commissioner for Harrington Park’s volunteer department.
“Our volunteer fire department is extremely strong, and our volunteers do an outstanding job,” he said.
Mr. Napolitano, who was also an Eagle Scout, loves the outdoors and he is an avid gardener. He said he loves growing tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini. And he looks forward to making wine — something that he did years ago.
He also loves music. He plays the guitar, harmonica and piano, and he enjoys going to concerts.
“I would like to get more into golf,” he added. “I go to the driving range occasionally, and I look forward to developing that skill.
“I hope to find time to go sailing this summer,” he added. “I served as the Sunfish fleet captain for the junior sailing team in Highland Lakes, New Jersey.”
On Sundays, Mr. Napolitano runs a family-owned liquor store. At his church, he is the founding member of its Knights of Columbus chapter, and served as Grand Knight in the past.
This seemingly overflowing plate doesn’t stop him from furthering his knowledge in the produce industry. He likes to rise very early in the morning at least once a week to go to Hunts Point market before going to his office around 7:30 a.m..
“Seeing the produce is a great advantage,” he said. “There is nothing that takes the place of visually seeing what your customers will receive.”
Like many young people joining the produce industry, Mr. Napolitano is bringing his knowledge of technology to his job with him.
“My grandfather worked harder, and now we’re trying to work smarter,” he said. “That means having full communications in order to be available to customers at all times. Technology enables us to be more efficient, hence more cost-effective, which helps everyone throughout the food chain.”
He feels that the produce business is unique among industries.
“It’s difficult to explain it to someone who isn’t familiar with it, but it’s basically a family,” he said. “At the end of the day, despite disagreements or ups and downs, you’re still a family. The next generation needs to pay attention to the elements from the past that bonded people together. Technology is a great asset. It can bring us closer to our products and our customers. But it will be a detriment if it causes people to diminish their face-to-face relationships. If we pay attention to the lessons from the past, combine that with technology, we’ll have a better produce industry in the future.”