Founded in Los Angeles in 1967, Progressive Produce has been selling, packing, and distributing potatoes and onions for more than 50 years. In 2007, it began an organic program that has been steadily growing and now represents about 40 percent of the company’s overall potato, onion, and yam business. Progressive’s distribution is most concentrated west of the Rocky Mountains, but it also reaches into the Midwest and the East Coast.
Gael Vazquez, director of procurement, Progressive Produce
Progressive offers organic russet, gold, and red potatoes; organic red, yellow, and sweet onions; and organic yams. It also has an organic mini-potato program featuring yellow, red, and purple baby potatoes. All items can be packed and sold under Progressive’s label, Nature’s Bounty.
Progressive Produce Nature's Bounty organic potatoes
Vazquez joined Progressive about 11 years ago, starting out on the production line for conventional sweet onions. As he moved his way up in the company, he was exposed to the organic program. “One key role that started getting me interested in organics was when I was doing the inventory manager control position,” says Vazquez. “One of the biggest programs that I would focus the most on—because they were the most time sensitive, and they were the most expensive item we were handling—were the organics. … I knew it was our program that had the most potential.”
Many of the organic growers that Vazquez works with have longstanding relationships with Progressive and started out growing conventionally for the company. “[Some of] those growers just eventually started growing organics,” says Vazquez. “[For] a lot of them, their kids got into farming, and they started growing organic. … I can think of five different growers that we work with where their kids wanted to grow organic … and now they grow organic for us. And when I need conventional, I talk to their dads.”
“One of the biggest programs that I would focus the most on—because they were the most time sensitive, and they were the most expensive item we were handling—were the organics. … I knew it was our program that had the most potential.” -Gael Vazquez
In order to have a year-round organic potato, onion, and yam program, Progressive works with growers in multiple locations. It has potato farmers in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and British Columbia—and this year, it’s added one in Idaho (the son of one of its conventional frying potato growers). Progressive’s onions are out of Washington, Oregon, California, and Mexico, and its yams come predominantly from California.
Progressive Produce headquarters
In addition to its 110,000-square-foot Los Angeles headquarters, Progressive has packing facilities for its potato, onion, and yam program in Edison, California and in three different locations in Washington. It also has its own trucking company. “We’re one of the very few who have a year-round program who have the flexibility to ship out of Washington, out of California, do same-day orders, just-in-time orders, next-day orders,” says Vazquez.
Progressive’s strong packing and shipping infrastructure and capabilities proved extremely useful when the coronavirus crisis hit in March, and demand for staple items like potatoes, onions, and yams shot through the roof. “We just saw numbers that we’ve never seen in the history of Progressive—ever!” says Vazquez.
Progressive Produce distribution
At the outset of the crisis, Vazquez says Progressive shipped nearly 20 million pounds of organic and conventional potatoes in a single week. “It was insane—to say the least!” he says.
Progressive Produce potato packaging
In addition to increased demand from existing customers, Progressive also had an influx of new accounts. Vazquez says business on the East Coast, in particular, skyrocketed and that it continues to remain elevated to this day, as does Progressive’s business in the rest of the country.
COVID aside, Progressive had already been seeing demand for its organic potatoes, onions, and yams increase each year. This season, Vazquez doubled the acreage for the company’s organic mini-potato program because of its strong sales performance the previous year. He’s also increased the acreage for organic full-size potatoes, onions, and yams. “Organics are popular,” he says. “They were popular before COVID happened, and now after COVID, they’ve been more popular—and I don’t see that stopping.”
Progressive Produce onion processing
Vazquez says that so far the upcoming fall/winter 2020 program is looking great: “I think we’re going to see a really good season on [potatoes, onions, and yams] as far as yield, availability, and quality.”
Overall, he’s feeling incredibly optimistic about the years ahead. “We have a very bright future,” he says. “I say that mostly because we have the resources and infrastructure, but we also have a really good team here at Progressive. We have a good mix of young personnel and experienced personnel, and we all work very well together.”