I had the chance to chat on Dec. 29 with Scott Danner, chief operating officer of Kansas City, Kan.-based Liberty Fruit Co.
10:00 a.m. Karst: You have mentioned that your first job was picking sweet corn near Springfield, Mass., as a teenager. What was that experience like?
10:02 a.m. Danner: I think I started in seventh grade. My first day, it was like 5 a.m., and my first mentor stood up bigger than life and said, “Just so everybody knows, there are no days off in this job.” All of a sudden one ballsy kid raises his hand and said “What do you mean we get no days off?” He goes, “Sonny, if you can teach me how the crops can stop growing, I’ll give you a day off.”
(That job) taught me a really good work ethic.
10:03 a.m. Karst: Fast forward a little bit. How do you first connect professionally to the industry?
10:04 a.m. Danner: I had that job all through high school and all through college. Two years out of college, I went back to the man and he hired me as his general manager. I then to work for a farmers’ cooperative, which I am proud to say is still in existence. I get a kick out of this big (buzz) about locally grown and buy local. You know, it has been around for decades. I look back and I’m telling people, I can remember in the 1970s and 1980s, Walbaum’s, Food Mart, Big Y, Stop and Shop, all of these people, they promoted Massachusetts grown or Harvest New England or Connecticut grown. They had the pictures of farmers in their ads. It is almost like we are reinventing the wheel. It has been going on for decades, if not centuries.
I was there (at the farmers’ cooperative) for six or seven years, I took another opportunity with C & S Wholesale back in 1990. They had never done produce and we started from scratch.
10:07 a.m. Karst: When did you come to Kansas City? What excites you now about Liberty Fruit?
10:08 a.m. Danner: I came to Kansas City in 1993. We have a great owner (Arnold Caviar) at Liberty Fruit, a visionary owner who just turned 70. He is not resting on what he has; he wants more for his people. When he talks, it is never about me, me, me or I, I, I, it is always about him wanting to make sure his people are taken care of. It is definitely a family type environment. When a person leaves or moves on, it is like one of his kids leaving the nest. It is a welcome change coming from the corporate world.
10:09 a.m. Karst: What are some opportunities and challenges right now for your company?
10:10 a.m. Danner: For us, our challenge is that we are not on the East Coast where heavy populated areas are only ten miles down the road. Our challenge for growth is spreading our wings further and further. We are into nine states now. I joke about it with people in the industry, but our next town is 200 miles away. Our challenge is that fuel costs continue to rise over the past few months – I think we are about 30% higher than last year at this time – so it’s a big challenge for us. We don’t have that huge market where we can keep just trying to get more market share. In the Kansas City area, we have done a great job but again, with the economy, you don’t see a lot of restaurants expanding or supermarkets putting up new stores. For us, we’re spreading our wings.