As Dante Galeazzi grew up, he was already a part of the fresh produce industry. When he was a child, his family grew a variety of commodities such as onions, apples, cherries, almonds and grapes in California. He has also been able to perform a variety of duties throughout the industry which has provided him with an extensive experience to run TIPA.
Interviewed by Veggies From Mexico, he tells us a little bit about his professional experience, the main challenges and changes the industry is facing these days, and how has his management been through TIPA; as well as the most important trends he forecasts for the coming years.
1. Can you share a bit about your professional career?
I grew up in produce. My family farmed onions, apples, cherries, almonds and grapes in California, and my first job was when I was 13 working in the onion fields. It must have gotten in to my blood then, because I graduated college and went to work immediately for CH Robinson’s perishable transportation division handling fresh produce freight in Monterey, CA. I was offered a great opportunity to head-up a team in McAllen, TX and loved South Texas so much that I’ve become a full blown Texan!
Over the years, I’ve worked for grower-shippers, small family companies, large corporations and importers, primarily in sales but also in support roles overseeing functions such as operations, special projects, crisis response and grower management. And I learned as much as I possibly could in each role, under some of the greatest folks this industry has. I am thankful for each of those opportunities because each role brought me a deeper understanding of the industry, of business in general, and the complex nuances that make up our vast and complex supply chain. Those experiences have not only shaped who I am professionally, but they were tremendous assets in providing me with the tools and understandings I can now bring to use in my role at TIPA.
2. What are the Texas International Produce Association history and main objectives?
The association was founded in 1942, and has gone through a number of names changes in the last 8 decades, but the mission has changed very little. The association was founded to promote the industry, solve problems, and help the members focus on their businesses by relying on the association to fight the battles that would otherwise tie up their resources.
I think our mission statement outlines our objectives best: TIPA seeks to advocate, educate, promote and represent the more than $10 billion in fresh fruits and vegetables that is either grown in the state of Texas or considers Texas its first point of arrival for domestic distribution.
3. What are the services offered to growers and shippers? What are their benefits?
TIPA is often the ones fighting behind the scenes. We’re present in Austin Texas and Washington DC. We weigh in and tell our stories to the federal and state agencies, to tell them exactly how current or new laws might impact our industry, or create undue burdens.
We bring education, like on food safety and professional development, to our members. Whether this be in-person trainings, virtual seminars, or shared whitepapers.
During recalls, we support the members by helping guide them or provide them resources as the process works through the various regulatory agencies. We get involved in these processes and make sure we’re providing support, because a recall impacts more than just 1 company – a recall often means a sales drop for that entire commodity, which means many members are impacted. So, if TIPA can help point the agencies and they can conclude or identify a source much quicker, it helps the uninvolved members get their produce rolling and to consumers all the faster.
And that’s just a few of the things TIPA works on.
4. What it has been like to lead as CEO and President the Association?
This opportunity has been incredible. The job is tough, but it is very, very rewarding in knowing that I’m fighting for fresh produce. Fruits & vegetables – seriously, who can’t support getting behind the advancement of eating more fruits and vegetables and making them more accessible to American’s? Don’t get me wrong – every day is a new challenge (often, it’s more than 1 new challenge in that single day). But knowing that I am working for the members of TIPA, people who are running companies started by prior generations, or folks who struck it out on their own, who are from all walks of life and who all want to see more fresh produce in every home, brings me joy every single day.
5. Has the industry changed since the foundation of the Association? Why is Texas such an important state for Mexican fresh produce?
Absolutely. Much like the industry itself, TIPA has changed and evolved to meet the challenges of today. In the 80 years of our association, we have undergone 4 name changes – each time, more representative of both the industry and membership. In 2012, we changed from the Texas Produce Association to the Texas International Produce Association. Our board choose that name because it reflected the distinct, and steady, growth of Mexican-grown fresh produce flowing through our region and the new range of challenges our members were facing. What does international compliance look like? How do we address federal hold-ups at the border? How can product move more efficiently through the supply chain?
Texas is so important to Mexico because of both logistics and economics. Since Texas is centrally located in the US, it makes for an ideal shipping point. From South Texas, we can reach nearly any US market in 4 days and most Canadian markets in 5 days. Not to mention the freight is significantly cheaper when compared to shipping from coast-to-coast. In addition, the state of Texas is friendly to businesses (no state income tax is pretty nice). And of course, we have resources available for businesses to establish themselves within a metropolitan area for a significantly lower cost of entry than other markets. Perhaps one of the biggest pluses though is that in 1 small, geographic area, a commercial buyer can purchase practically everything they need, combining domestic and international produce, year-round. This means buyers can place more diverse orders, more frequently, keeping fresher product on their shelves.
6. How important is Mexican agriculture for the fresh produce industry in the US?
Very important. Just look at the ITC report that recently came out on cucumbers and squash. The addition of Mexico to our supply chain has helped diversify and expand produce shelves across North America. Consumers now enjoy year-round access their favorite fresh fruits and vegetables, which is really a great thing when it comes to pushing consumption. Much easier to get someone to eat more fresh produce when their favorite fruit or veggie is available year-round.
7. What are the main projects the Association is currently working on?
Viva Fresh is certainly our largest “project.” It brings more than 2,000 attendees annually to learn more and engage with our members as we highlight the importance of this region.
That said, we are always working on a long slate of issues – food safety education and practice improvements, research project support, marketing, promotions, labor shortages, immigration, additional resources for cross border travel, policy coordination with federal agencies, and so on.
The list of challenges we face in this industry is so vast and diverse because our commodities touch so many aspects of daily life. Since it’s food, we have FDA & CDC involved – and rightly so. Because of fertilizers, chemical inputs, water and that we grow in dirt, we also have EPA and USDA. When the international piece gets involved, it adds DHS, DOC, ITC, CBP and USTR. And don’t forget about labor, which is overseen by DOL… and occasionally, DHS as well. Transportation brings in FMCSA…. I think you get the picture. And by the way, all those agencies are federal. Many of these agencies have state level sister-entities that also play roles in the enforcement side of the industry, which often means an additional set of policies for our members to navigate.
Often times, the value of membership in the associations could be summed up as “receiving FYI emails that help coordinate which arm of the government is involved and how they’re involved.”
8. VIVA Fresh is coming, can you tell us about it and how does it benefit the membership?
Viva Fresh is our annual promotional event. This year, we’re expecting close to 200 exhibitors, 2000+ total attendees, and nearly 300 retail-foodservice buyers. This event has become incredibly important for our membership, because it provides an opportunity for the buyers to meet the suppliers doing business in this region.
Viva Fresh has focused on 4 pillars: the region – one of the only places in the US where you can get domestic and international fresh produce year-round; the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables for healthy living; bringing together the supply chain – buyers, suppliers, and allied industries; and of course, networking. Our planning committee always focuses on putting together a show that allows for plenty of time and opportunities to meet new companies, new people and to do so with the world-famous hospitality that Texas is known for.
Our team works hard to assemble an expo floor with the best of our region, focusing on what makes the Tex-Mex corridor so important to the North American fresh produce supply chain. Suppliers that are growing in Texas, suppliers growing in Mexico, and the partners that can bring that fresh produce to store shelves and restaurant plates.
9. What impact do you consider food safety, social responsibility and sustainability have on the industry and how has it changed over the years?
These 3 factors – food safety, social responsibility, and sustainability have become more and more important in the industry, especially over the last 2 decades. As information access grows, and consumers become more educated on the impacts of these issues to the industry – and to their meals! – they too become more engaged, especially in terms of requesting attention to these topics.
They want to know more about who is picking their food, how do our farming practices impact the environment around us, what is the impact of our carbon footprint, and can they feed this grape or berry to their families with confidence. And because consumers are asking these questions, it is beholden to our industry to give them those answers. Organizations like TIPA are here to help with that messaging and ensure that our industry is part of the conversation driving policies that impact how our society not only perceives, but interacts with our stakeholders on those topics.
I expect that all 3 of those topics will remain relevant, for at least the next decade.
10. What are the main trends that you think will influence the industry in the coming years?
Convenience, flavor and health impact (i.e. nutritional density) I believe will be the biggest drivers of our industry over the next few years. People remain busy, especially as we emerge from the pandemic. We saw consumers really become aware of the impacts of Vitamin C on their diets, and the citrus category has really benefited from that increase over the last 18 months. And of course, flavor.
As a consumer, I have always thought flavor was the biggest motivator when I made a purchase for food, so it only makes sense that if our industry wants to capture more market share – i.e. repeat purchases – then we have to focus on giving the customers what they want every time they come to the shelves. Not just appearance, but quality and flavor-wise.