Kayla Burks is organic sales team lead for the Pacific Coast Trading Company, a subsidiary of the Pacific Coast Fruit Company. Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Pacific Coast Trading works with around 60 growers and focuses primarily on distributing organic produce. OPN recently caught up with Kayla to learn about PC Trading’s organic produce offerings, some new programs the company has been rolling out this fall, and more.
Kayla Burks, Organic Sales Team Lead, Pacific Coast Trading Company
Can you tell us about your background in the produce industry?
I grew up on a small cherry farm in Independence, Oregon. As a kid, I used to pick cherries and sell them to our local grocery stores for my school clothes money. I then went to Oregon State for college and graduated in 2015 with a degree in general agriculture. After graduating, I applied for multiple jobs in the produce industry before being hired as an administrative assistant by Scott Schultz, who was working at another produce company at that time. Through working with him and learning about the industry, I knew I wanted to be more involved than just doing administrative work, so I moved into a sales role—and have been on the sales side ever since.
When did you start working for Pacific Coast Trading Company, and what led you to work there?
I started working for Pacific Coast Trading Company in 2017. When I met with the owners of Pacific Coast Fruit and their senior leadership team, I quickly realized how welcoming the employee environment is here, and I really wanted to be a part of it. I also admire that they have so many women in leadership roles in the company.
Organic cucumbers, Pacific Coast Trading Company
What percentage of Pacific Coast Trading’s produce is certified organic?
I would say roughly 90 percent of what we sell is certified organic. We work with lots of growers who farm both organic and conventional crops. Our focus has always been on organic, but we like to provide anything and everything that our customers ask for. So we have taken on a little more conventional business over the last year to help out our growers and customers.
“When I met with the owners of Pacific Coast Fruit and their senior leadership team, I quickly realized how welcoming the employee environment is here, and I really wanted to be a part of it.” - Kayla Burks
What organic commodities does Pacific Coast Trading offer?
We have a wide range of organic items. Historically, our two biggest hitters would be onions and potatoes, but we've definitely branched out on the dry veg category, so we now offer squash, cucumbers, and peppers. We also do young Thai coconuts, melons, citrus, and tomatoes. We definitely try to help customers find what they're looking for, so we also do specialty items when requested.
Organic honey nut squash, Pacific Coast Trading Company
Can you describe PC Trading’s customer base?
Our customer base is a healthy mix of wholesale, retail, and home delivery companies. We distribute nationally and into Canada, and we have also recently started exporting to Taiwan.
“Historically, our two biggest hitters would be onions and potatoes, but we've definitely branched out on the dry veg category, so we now offer squash, cucumbers, and peppers. We also do young Thai coconuts, melons, citrus, and tomatoes.” - Kayla Burks
Why is organic produce important to you?
For me, being part of the organic produce industry is all about prioritizing helping farmers. One of my favorite parts of my job is working with the growers and learning about their family histories and how they got to where they are now—everyone has such interesting stories! And supporting farmers who choose to grow organically in order to increase soil fertility and avoid synthetic pesticides is also very important to me.
Organic cucumbers, Pacific Coast Trading Company
Does PC Trading currently have any new programs in the works?
Yes! One of our new programs is young coconuts from Mexico. Young Mexican coconuts are identical to young Thai coconuts, but we'll have a little more control over their shipping and arrival times. For our Thai coconut program, we have to order three weeks ahead and wait for them to arrive. And then they get stuck at the port because there's so many people importing, so they sit for probably another two weeks before they're released to us. This Mexican deal will be more instantaneous, so we’ll be able to provide quicker service to our customers and minimize any gaps.
Organic young Mexican coconuts, Pacific Coast Trading Company
We've got another program starting in October, which is organic Argentinian blueberries. We’ll have several fun varieties of berries available—Misty, Jewel, Emerald, Star, and Blue Crisp—and we'll be able to deliver them via air freight to any airport in the US or Canada.
“Supporting farmers who choose to grow organically in order to increase soil fertility and avoid synthetic pesticides is ... very important to me.” - Kayla Burks
Have you recently added any new commodities to your Grown Up Organics label?
So on top of our Grown Up Organics onions and potatoes, we have introduced organic honey nut squash (grown in Oregon, California, and Mexico). It’s a personal-size hard squash. It's like a smaller butternut but with a thin edible skin, and it's got a more sweet and multi-caramel flavor. When you roast it, it's just awesome! So that rolled out at the beginning of last month, which is very exciting.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the produce industry?
I’d say my experience has been pretty interesting. In one instance when I was very new to the industry, I was told that someone refused to work with me because I was a woman and requested to work with a male salesperson instead, which was unexpected. Obviously, the produce industry is fairly male driven, but the organic industry has welcomed more women into the fold. In my time working at Pacific Coast Trading, they've always ensured I'm supported in every way that I can be. So overall, I’ve had a wonderful experience!
Organic Persian cucumbers, Pacific Coast Trading Company
What are PC Trading’s plans for the future?
Our future has been the main point of conversation for our department for the last couple of years because we're growing at a really fast pace. We’ve gone from just Scott Schultz and I in 2017 to our current team of 12 people, which is exciting. We plan on continuing to add more team members and to develop our direct grower relationships. We pride ourselves on customer satisfaction and customer service, and our priority will always be to get our customers the freshest high-quality produce on the market as quickly as possible.