Agriculture runs deep in the blood of Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Produce LLC, Fresno, Calif.
When he was 14, Torosian received his first taste of the business earning 95 cents an hour loading trucks for the Bianco family, Coachella, Calif., and Eugene Nalbandian’s “Locomotive Engineer” grape deal in Arvin, Calif.
And Torosian, 62, has never looked back.
Crown Jewels was founded in 1989. Ten years later, Torosian and partner Rob Mathias started Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, which they have since renamed Crown Jewels Produce.
The firm has enjoyed steady growth during the past 13 years, beefing up sales staff at its Nogales, Ariz., office, this spring and opening an office in Santiago, Chile, this summer.
“Growth is nice, but we just want to make it growth that makes sense to our overall success,” Torosian said.
He was quick to credit Mathias, hardworking employees and loyal customers for much of the company’s success.
“Mr. Mathias is the backbone of our company who manages to consistently challenge each and every one of us to keep pushing forward and never settle for anything but the best,” Torosian said.
Mathias’ son, Robbie, as well as Torosian’s son, Wyatt, have joined the company.
Crown Jewels continues to explore both short- and long-term growth opportunities in different commodities where they make sense, he said.
Underlying it all is a philosophy to serve the growers with whom they’ve cultivated relationships.
“It’s all about the grower doing well,” Torosian said. “When they’re doing well, we’re doing well.”
Doug Hemly, president of Greene & Hemly, Courtland, Calif., is one such grower-packer. Hemly, who’s known Torosian for about 20 years, enlisted Crown Jewels to market their conventionally grown apples and pears because of the fruit’s seasonality.
“They’re in the marketplace year-round, so they bring consistency to us,” Hemly said. “Crown Jewels and Atomic are also consummate professionals. They’re very well-organized, and their bookkeeping is very good.”
Rather than specialize in a few commodities, Torosian said Crown Jewels handles a wide variety of produce, including pomegranates, squash, melons and year-round table grapes.
The Nogales, Ariz., office saw an increase in Mexican vegetable imports of about 35% last winter. Although Torosian said he expected the Mexican vegetable deal to continue to grow, it probably will not be at last year’s blistering pace.
But he did say Crown Jewels hoped to become more involved with colored peppers as well as possibly miniature peppers.
As the Santiago office gets rolling, Torosian said it will handle Chilean pomegranates this winter and Southern Hemisphere grapes.
Crown Jewels expected to handle about 20% more San Joaquin Valley grapes this season than in the past, and Torosian said he expected volumes to continue to increase from Mexico, the San Joaquin and the Southern Hemisphere.
Other commodities where he foresaw growth included cherries and blueberries.
Although some retailers have consolidated and even shut stores, Torosian said he still sees retail opportunities.
“The bigger companies, including some of the big-box stores, are still growing,” he said. “We see growth of the Latino chains, and a lot of ethnic stores are picking up volume, particularly in the Southwest and Southern and central California.”