I came to Washington when I was 16 as a foreign exchange student from Turkey. My family has been farming primarily cotton in Turkey so I have a little background with that. Cotton is an important agricultural export and quite popular so that’s why my parents did it.
I came back to Washington when I was 18 to attend college because I already had friends here, knew the area and the schools. I majored in Business and Economics and graduated from University of Washington.
I am relatively new to the food industry but I was familiar with local food production back in Turkey. It was normal to visit the markets with all kinds of fresh produce that looked and tasted delicious. I first met Tony Ataee (Founder, Crown Pacific), because I was thinking of importing Turkish apricots. As I talked with Tony, I realized it was not feasible for me to do because the margins were too small. So I began helping out around here and then jumped right in when the opportunity came up. I’ve been with Crown Pacific for about a year. Now I help build the business, expand into new growth markets, etc.
What can you tell us about Crown Pacific Fine Foods and something called Eat Local Distribution?
Crown Pacific was founded in 1982. We are a small business, less than 35 employees. We have an 80,000 sq. ft. facility in Kent and stock over 9,000 specialty foods, confections and a full line of food service deli items. We ship to our customers either via our fleet of refrigerated trucks that drive up to Bellingham and down to Olympia, or via UPS or other common carriers. Although we do business outside the area, our core is here in Northwest Washington.
We recently created a subdivision called Eat Local Distribution. We are building distribution solutions for local producers. http://eatlocaldistribution.com. With 30 years of experience in the food industry, Crown Pacific Fine Foods has established a strong distribution network in the Northwest. Every day, we deliver fine confections and gourmet specialty goods to hundreds of retailers and restaurants across the region. We take pride in our flexible transportation solutions for various needs at a fraction of the cost by utilizing the existing network. We want to share our experience and tools through our new subsidiary Eat Local Distribution. Eat Local Distribution is a local hub that connects producers with restaurants and retailers. At Eat Local Distribution we can create customized solutions for local distribution needs, helping local producers play a larger part in the local agricultural food network.
What makes Crown Pacific unique?
I think what makes us unique is our flexibility. We work well with retailers like Whole Foods Market and PCC, because we can deliver according to their needs, we can have our employees in the stores taking care of products, whatever they need, we are flexible enough to create a the ideal situation for them. While retailers/food service benefits from our work, we figured local producers could also benefit. We can accept drop offs here seven days a week or we can go to the farm and pick it up. It doesn’t have to be impossible for us be the delivery agent for local producers. Our goal is to create distribution solutions for local producers.
To be honest, we believe producers should maintain their direct relationships with their buyers. We think producers are much better suited to represent themselves to their buyers than we can. When it comes to distribution, we can make it a lot more efficient, cost effective and just easier for everyone if we manage the deliveries ourselves. We can also pick up product from the farm (if it’s a large enough volume) bring it to our facilities, put in on the same pallet, on the same refrigerated truck that was going to the store already, and just take it there. Producers don’t have to take a day off, drive all over the region dropping off products to 10 different buyers. Considering the expense of a delivery truck and maintenance, and paying $10 an hour for a driver, we actually help producers save time, money and fuel.
What kinds of products are you equipped to deliver for local producers?
We are interested in coordinating deliveries for Puget Sound area meat, cheese, dry goods, artisan and other value added producers. Highly perishable fruits and vegetables like lettuces, greens, etc. probably won’t work well with our service model. We currently have a Northwest catalog of specialty items and we’re expanding our business into developing a catalog with farmed and artisan products as well. We just need more local producers involved.
All of our trucks are refrigerated. If produce is relatively stable, we can arrange for the producer to drop it here in Kent once or twice a week, and even on weekends. It may stay for a few days before it’s shipped out so we just don’t want to take a risk with highly perishable products. Almost all the area retailers are our customers. Town and Country (Central Markets), PCC, Whole Foods, Metropolitan Market, QFC— they are all our customers. While it’s hard for local producers to get their products into PCC, we can take them on as a producer. If they are interested in creating the relationship with a retailer or restaurant, we can work to get their products there. It’s more expensive for a producer to drive to Whole Foods Market to drop off a case of squash. Working with us can often be the less expensive route for producers.
When it comes to ideal working relationships with retailers, it makes sense to have a central hub. The missing link is often the right distributor who encourages the small to medium sized producer to maintain close relationships with their buyers.
You became a member in November 2010. What are you looking forward to in 2011?
We are looking forward to participating in PSFN’s Seattle and Skagit wholesale markets this summer to help with deliveries. We are also looking forward to going to more events like the next Farmer Fisher Chef Connection. We already attended the Cascade Harvest Coalition’s Food and Finance Summit and we got to know some producers in Port Townsend. We are ultimately hoping to work with many more local producers so we can help move their product into places where people shop and eat food on a daily basis.
I’ve been going to farmers markets and talking with producers. Some are ready for our service but didn’t know it, while others are honestly not ready for what we can do for them. I think the most important thing is for producers to have enough production to sell to customers ranging from restaurants to grocery stores. If your business is up and running, and you have volumes of quality product, we want to work with you. I joined PSFN to connect with producers who are ready for business.
What’s the best way to reach you?
I can be reached through my PSFN profile (http://www.agbizcenter.org/listing/?id=3679&t=i) or by cell phone seven days a week (daytime hours only please) at 425-760-2854. Or contact your PSFN account manager for further questions.