( Photo courtesy DNO Produce )

What does it mean when someone says the “old school” way of doing things in the produce business? When I hear seasoned produce veterans talk about the “old school,” it is almost always with a sense of nostalgia for the way things used to be.

Why is this? Were things really that much better in the past than they are today? 

I believe that the biggest negative difference from the way things were is on the personal relationship side of things. 

Generally speaking, back in the day, more meaningful relationships were built within the supply chain. Buyers knew their shippers, and shippers knew their buyers. Much of the business at the time took place over the phone and in person.

This verbal communication created a benefit by allowing conversations to take place about the condition of the product and fields, and other factors that affect, or will affect the product. This type of communication also personalized the dealings to the point that a level of trust was built that does not exist today. 

In that sense buyers and shippers would often work with each other on a give-and-take basis. If Mother Nature decided that a shipper was going to have a glut of product and needed to move a certain size, a buyer would work the product in and promote it on short notice. To reciprocate, the shipper might help the buyer in a tight market by ensuring the buyer’s order was filled ahead of other potential buyers. 

This still happens today, just not as much.

In my opinion, it is not good that things have become less personal, although I have seen some interesting uses of technology that have given a push in the right direction. 

For instance, I was recently impressed by the use of social media by a farmer who regularly uploads videos of himself touring his own fields, describing the conditions, educating the viewer, and giving a virtual market update on the commodity at hand. 

I hope that we see more unique and creative ways to promote the relational side of our business while embracing the technology that exists. We need more old school swagger with new school tools.

Although this isn’t personal in the sense of a one-on-one discussion, it certainly puts a personal touch to things. 

I hope that we see more unique and creative ways to promote the relational side of our business while embracing the technology that exists. We need more old school swagger with new school tools.

I also believe that people often view the past through rose-colored glasses, and although there were some definite benefits to the way things used to be, we are far better off as an industry than we ever were before. 

Technology has allowed the industry to operate much faster, safer, and more transparently than at any time in the past. The information that is available to help make decisions is also far better and more accurate than at any previous time. 

I am certain that as our industry continues to develop we will always look to the past and wish for the best of then to be present now — just as long as it doesn’t come with the baggage of the problems that existed along with it!

Alex DiNovo is president and COO of DNO Produce group of companies, Columbus, Ohio. E-mail him at [email protected].

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