(Photo: Me and my trusted sidekick Bob Meikle of distributor Pacific Coast Fruit, checking out the incoming cherry crop at Bigfork Orchards in Mattawa, WA, earlier this month.)
Editor’s Note: Have you ever wondered who’s behind those sweet juicy strawberries or those crisp heads of fresh organic lettuce in our Produce Departments? The man behind all that fresh produce is Joe Pulicicchio, whose incredible knowledge and passion for high-quality fresh food is at work behind the scenes all year long. We thought it was high time he shared that knowledge with others, whether it’s explaining the choices he makes or the partnerships with the farmers and growers he works with to bring the best-tasting, freshest products to our stores. So here is his first blog post – feel free to ask questions or make comments.
I started my career in the food business in Tacoma in 1975, cleaning a grocery store’s Meat Department six days a week for a couple hours a day after school.
I soon graduated to night janitor two nights a week, and still cleaned the meat department and attended high school.
In 1977, I took my next step into the world of “Night Stocking, “working the grocery freight and frozen foods at night while attending the local community college. It didn’t take long to figure out that canned goods and freezers were not my passion. I grabbed the very first opportunity to move into the Produce Department. Truth be told, it was because I thought it looked so easy. Imagine getting paid for something so easy! Little did I know it was not as easy as it looked.
At the ripe old age of 20, I became Produce “Manager.” Of course, I was the only employee in the Produce Department – so I got along well with the boss.
In 1987 I had the opportunity to come to work for Town & Country Markets at the Ballard Market. It was here where I really learned to love the produce business. We did things in produce that would make the average CEO’s toes curl. But we had no average CEO, we had Don Nakata. He inspired me to pursue my passions and discover new possibilities by removing the limitations of the status quo.
At Ballard we pushed the limits and made many mistakes, but it was in those mistakes that we learned the most. Nearly all of our greatest breakthroughs were a result of discoveries made in the crazy risks we took.
For example, we once lost our minds and took a chance on California strawberries. We had an opportunity to buy strawberries at well below market value. The safe and sane approach would have been to secure 100 flats for the usual business, but we decided to really go for it. We brought in 1,000 flats and sold them at an exceptional retail price. We sold the entire 1,000 flats on that particular Saturday (normal would have been about 50 flats at that time). What we learned is everyone loves a great deal, but even more important was that these strawberries had exceptional flavor! And our customers want flavor!
On the flip side, we once pounced on a deal on watermelon. I bought 100 full bins (two full semi-truck loads) with the same intention in mind. All were delivered at night and were setting in front of the store when I arrive early the next morning. As I pulled into the back of the store and got out of my car, I detected a terrible odor. All of the melons were well beyond ripe. In fact, I was quite sure they were rotten. It was all I could do to get them loaded up and hauled away before customers started arriving that morning. The lesson was that a good deal is not always a good deal!
Well that was then and this is now. I’m still making my share of mistakes – learning and loving every minute. But here it is 2012, and I’m in my 26th year with Town & County Markets. Along the way I have learned a great deal about fresh produce and what it is that we are trying to do.
In this blog I hope to share insights into the products we have selected and the relationships we have developed. I look forward to our conversation!