Fresh-cut pioneer and founder and chairman of Coronet Foods Howard Long has written a book on his personal and professional life.
“Fields of Green: Triumphs and Trials of an American Business Pioneer,” written by Long and Kenneth Overman, is available on Amazon.com (http://tinyurl.com/ycav3znu). The 322-page book reflects on Long’s more than 80 years and pays particular attention to his role in the rise of the fresh-cut lettuce industry as a supplier of shredded lettuce to McDonald’s restaurants, beginning in 1971 and continuing for three decades.
“When I started in 1965, there was no shredded lettuce,” Long said in June. “We were the true pioneers in the industry.”
With the growth of regulations over the past four decades, Long said it would be impossible to start a fresh-cut business today as he did in the 1960s.
The book’s prologue describes a May 1974 meeting between Long and the board of Western Growers in San Diego. Long was pushing hard for changes in state regulations that would allow different head lettuce sizes to be shipped in bins, rather than uniform head sizes sent by carton only out of state. That change to allow bin shipments, endorsed by Western Growers, allowed Long’s West Virginia-based Coronet Foods to source lettuce more competitively for Northeast U.S. customers.
“The amazing thing was it all came from a desperate letter I wrote to Mr. Daryl Arnold, president of Western Growers at the time,” Long wrote in the book. “Prepared by a sharp attorney, the letter was my response to our company being squeezed out of a competitive lettuce processing business in my market, the U.S. Northeast.”
Long had threatened to sue for damages because of unfair trade practices, and his argument won the day.
“Fields of Green” covers the expansion of Coronet Foods into England and China. He also details the emergence of retail salad kits and the competition that Coronet Foods faced. Long also recalls the company’s waning relationship with McDonald’s in the late 1990s as Long was seeking to retire from the business and sell the company.
He also reviews the painful end to Coronet Foods, caused primarily by a salmonella outbreak from food consumed at Sheetz gas stations. That outbreak sparked lawsuits against the company by food safety lawyer Bill Marler. Roma tomatoes were implicated in the outbreak. Though expert witnesses said the source of the contamination was the field and not the processing plant, the strain of the lawsuits and insufficient insurance forced Coronet Foods into bankruptcy, Long said. The company closed its doors on Jan. 1, 2005.
Long’s book also tells about the importance of his Christian faith and touches on the medical challenges he has faced. Long had heart a heart transplant 17 years ago.
The ups and downs of his business life and personal life are largely in the rear view window, and he calls himself “very blessed.”
“Everybody has a vision or a dream or just a good old-fashioned idea,” Long said in June. “The people that have the courage to go and try it, that is what separates the men from the boys.”
Long, 83, divides his time between Palm Beach, Fla., and Wheeling, W.V., Overman said. He is a trustee for Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., and serves on the boards of other philanthropic organizations.