CHICAGO — Brendan Comito is the winner of the 2014 Jan Fleming Produce Legacy Award.
Comito, chief operating officer of Capital City Fruit, Norwalk, Iowa, has the principles that Fleming represented, Shannon Shuman, publisher of The Packer and Produce Retailer, said at the award presentation Aug. 11 at the publications’ 3rd annual Midwest Produce Conference & Expo.
Working at the company from an early age, Comito is part of the third generation of family ownership at Capital City Fruit, Shuman said. He also has been active in industry leadership, local efforts to end hunger, and giving support to immigrant community, Shuman said. The company, started by Comito’s grandfather, began in 1949 as a single retail store in Des Moines.
“As an example of their caring values, Capital City Fruit takes on as a personal challenge to help alleviate hunger in their community,” Shuman said. “Our honoree realized early on that they wanted to focus on what they could be best at and that is using their food resources to help with the issue of hunger.”
Shuman noted Comito’s service on the United Fresh Produce Association’s Business and Trade Management Council from 2002-05 and the Membership Committee from 2003-09. Comito, a graduate of United Fresh’s Leadership Program, also is a former chair of the association’s Wholesaler-Distributor Segment Board and was on its board from 2005-12.
“My grandfather went to United conventions and I remember my dad taking off on a plane when I was four or five years old for a United convention,” he said. “When I was a young person, I knew how important that is, to look beyond our company, to see that a rising tide lift all boats,”
“If our industry is strong, all of our businesses are going to be strong.”
His father, Joe Comito, is 72 years old and comes to work every day, after giving control of the company to his three sons in 2009. Brendan Comito said he treasures the time he can still learn from his dad.
“There are challenges in working with a family (business) but also benefits too,” he said. “I can work with my dad every day and I don’t know very many of my friends who can say that.”
The Jan Fleming Produce Legacy Award was created to honor Jan Fleming, who worked at and ultimately led Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. for nearly forty years.
“She welcomed me in the industry and I’ve never forgotten that, and I use that as a lesson to me,” he said.
Brendan Comito said he tries to identify people who are new to the industry and greet them as she would have.
“When you look back at Jan Fleming, she just didn’t just run her company and work in the family business, she showed you have to be involved and engaged with the industry,” he said.
Fleming was recognized as Produce Woman of the Year by United Fresh, The Packer’s Produce Person of the year (co-awarded with her husband Tim Fleming) and the Distinguished Service Award from Luther College. She died in May 2013 after a battle with cancer. Lisa Strube, also of Strube Celery & Vegetable, received the award in 2013.