A Deeply Rooted Commitment

How Westside Produce fiercely guards the reputation of its livelihood: melons

WESTSIDE PRODUCE is now run by "a collection of families," including the Patricios: CFO Stephen Patricio (center) and sons Blake (left), vice president of accounting and finance, and Garrett (right), vice president of operations.

Despite the fact that Westside Produce is one of the world’s leading melon providers, at its heart, it’s just a family-owned company. The company’s story began in 1953, when two brothers, Jess and Frank Telles, turned their flourishing farming operation (barley, cotton, lettuce, melons, tomatoes, and wheat across 50,000 acres in California and Arizona) into Telles Ranch Incorporated. In 1974, under the assistance of Jess’s new CFO, Stephen Patricio, the two brothers amicably split their consolidated holdings.

From that point, the company morphed from just being the Telles family to being a collection of families, including the Patricios. (Stephen’s sons Blake and Garrett would later come on board, as vice president of accounting and finance and vice president of operations, respectively). Or take, for instance, Sal Alaniz, who came on board in 1993 right around the time the industry was being hit hard by listeria [a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning] in cantaloupes. He would later become the director of harvest and quality control, a position previously held by his father. “Like many of our field workers and supervisors, Sal grew up in the business,” explains Garret Patricio, who also serves as Westside’s general counsel. “He went off to college, got an accounting degree, and came back to work here. You don’t see that in lots of other companies.”

What is your personal
goal in 2012?

Jim Malanca
Vice President of Sales & Marketing

“Restoring the buying community’s confidence in
the safety of cantaloupes.”

Sal Alaniz
Director of Harvest & Quality Control

“Training and keeping our 600 employees happy and safe.”

Justin Porter
Director of Technology

“Continuing to find the best ways to trace and manage our inventory in the digital world.”

Westside takes special care to represent its growers, too. “We were growers years ago,” Patricio says. “For four generations, back to the original business owners, we’ve shipped and packed product.” Perhaps that’s the phenomenon that has allowed Westside Produce to prevail, even in the midst of uncertainty and hardship that would have crippled a lesser company. “We don’t have high turnover, because our employees stick with us,” Patricio says. “It’s an educated and experienced culture.”

To guard Westside’s reputation in the industry, Patricio focuses much of his time on achieving the best practices for packing and shipping. “It’s absolutely paramount, especially in the age we’re operating in,” Patricio says. “For us, food and employee safety has been our focus and the primary driver of our business: preserving our label, protecting the reputation of the commodity, and making sure customers have the best, most wholesome produce possible.”

The company’s commitment to adapting to changes in the market is essential to maintaining that reputation. After a series of outbreaks elsewhere in the world in the early 1990s, researchers were paying special attention to how melons were being packaged. At the time, the common practice was to hydro-cool melons in a wash bath before shipping. However, scientists took a look at California’s arid climate and figured out that wet, duplicative handling posed the greatest risk of contamination and the melons should be packed directly in the field. “It seemed new-age at the time, but the research said it ensured a safer product, and we believe in safety,” Patricio says.

It was that decision—to try something new—that opened a new world of possibilities to Westside Produce. Since then, they’ve placed a special emphasis on adaptability and staying out in front of the competition by keeping up with the technological changes in the market, including better produce traceability. “We can now generate labels in the field with mobile printers, for instance,” Patricio explains.

Given the company’s track record of innovation, and given its commitment to inject verve and new solutions into the world of melons, continued success is visible on the horizon. “If there’s a way we can implement traceability systems that help consumers better understand what they’re getting and where it’s coming from,” Patricio says, “we’ll find it.”