Since its onset in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy and led to massive disruption across almost every industry – and the food industry is certainly no exception. Government-imposed public health restrictions closed restaurants and slowed down other food-service industry operations, which caused a ripple effect onto related industries such as food production, warehousing, and distribution.
In theory, Excellent Fruit & Produce (EFAP) should have been one of the operations crippled by this disruption. The Miami-based independently owned and operated distributor of fresh local produce counted restaurants and hotels across southeast Florida, a region hard-hit by the pandemic, among its key customer base. However, thanks to a carefully designed business plan and strategic pivot led by EFAP’s co-owner and president Enrique Torres, the company was able to continue its multi-year trajectory of growth and is even preparing for expansion. Torres, a graduate of Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (Miami 2014), credits the program and its training for “forcing him to think bigger”; and that bigger thinking positioned EFAP to navigate through the pandemic and earn a spot (#78) on ICIC’s 2020 Inner City 100 list recognizing the 100 fastest-growing companies in under-resourced communities across the U.S.
As restaurants and hotels began shutting down last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, EFAP held maintained its work supplying hospitals with fresh, locally sourced fruit and vegetables while pursuing more government bids. The strategic pivot paid off as the company was awarded multiple contracts to service jails and nursing homes as well as a large contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farmers’ Families Food Box Program that aims to help farmers and distributors.
Through its Farmers to Families Food Box Program, the USDA partners with distributors, whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of restaurants, hotels, and other food service businesses, to purchase fresh produce, dairy, and meat products. Distributors package these products into family-sized boxes, then transport them to food banks, community and faith-based organizations, and other non-profits serving Americans in need. This program was an incredible business opportunity for EFAP, but it also revealed to Torres that an expansion of his team and resources was also necessary to operate alongside and compete for contracts with much larger companies.
“We are a small distributor on the southern tip of the country, and this was meant to be for larger distributors with nation-wide reach,” said Torres. “That was the biggest contract that we’ve ever had. We were able to do it satisfactorily with a 100% completion rate, [and did so] with such limited resources.”
He continued, “We built [our current distribution center] four years ago, and we have experienced substantial growth in the last five, six years and are now at a point where we need to move to a different distribution center, so that’s currently a project we are engaging on.”
In the meantime, EFAP continues to hold their own alongside large national distributors also involved in this government program.
The pandemic’s economic fallout has sent many companies’ operations and revenues into a tailspin over the past 20 months, but as Excellent Fruit & Produce has demonstrated, those that were prepared to strategically pivot rapidly grew and prospered despite the challenges they faced.
ICIC will honor 100 companies, like EFAP, that prospered amid the pandemic at the ICIC Annual Conference. The Inner City 100 awards ceremony, during which the 2021 rankings will be unveiled, is scheduled to be held on Thursday, December 9th during the Conference. Register for the two-day virtual event, here. Early bird discount tickets are available until October 31st!
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