Driscoll's Miles and Brie Reiter discuss the past, present and future of their business
In a recent interview, father and daughter J. Miles Reiter and Brie Reiter Smith of Driscoll's, the world's largest berry company, discuss Driscoll's plans for a greener, more consumer-friendly future and how their family values are translate into supply chain.
Reiter, a fourth generation producer and grandson of one of Driscoll's founders, now serves as Driscoll's President and CEO. Reiter Smith serves as the director of product leadership for Blackberry. It also owns and operates a blueberry company called BerrySmith Ltda. In Chile.
“I think we have the most continuity of any berry-growing family in the United States,” Reiter tells Food Tank. But both Reiter and Reiter Smith recognize that the Driscoll's legacy extends beyond the company's core family.
Operating with what they call a one-family philosophy, the company says they celebrate the contribution of its workers at every step of the supply chain. Reiter Smith says that Driscoll's has always referred to the company as a family because the company is not vertically integrated, meaning that instead of growing and selling its own fruit, it works with thousands of independent growers around the world.
“We had to immediately recognize that all the people who participated in that process were included, at least conceptually, as part of our company and what we do,” says Reiter Smith. He points out that the company considers its own employees and the employees of its suppliers to be equally important.
Reiter adds that there are many diversion points along the supply chain: breeders who are under pressure to produce high-yielding, disease-resistant plants; producers who do not want red fruits or shrink; and pickers who want berries that are easy to pick. The company tries to remind these workers that despite their different needs, the end point is the most important thing.
Driscoll's has grown approximately 15 percent annually for more than 30 years. Reiter attributes this success to the company's focus on elevating its workers and partners. It suggests that Driscoll's would not have experienced the same growth if it had focused on taking as much of the serving size as possible.
Reiter explains that the company offers its suppliers access to cutting-edge technology and markets that would otherwise be out of reach. He and Reiter Smith hope that by creating new opportunities for workers and growers, Driscoll's can create a ripple effect in communities.
“We have big growers, small growers, everything in between,” Reiter tells Food Tank. “Three families of four generations”. He says families under the Driscoll's umbrella have gone from pickers to farm owners and the sons of farmworkers have become doctors.
Reiter and Reiter Smith also hope that the sense of renewed appreciation for field and factory workers stimulated by COVID-19 will have a lasting impact. "I was very hopeful when there was so much positive press about essential workers and farm workers," says Reiter Smith.
“Finally, there is a lot of energy behind this, and I am very hopeful that we will see real and sustained change. In California, at least in most areas, farmworkers have prioritized vaccines. I think it's a very good indication that maybe some of this support will continue. "
Reiter and Reiter Smith also talk about the ways Driscoll's is responding to changing consumer preferences, such as adopting less-than-perfect-looking fruit and working to reduce water and plastic use, which they readily admit will be a great business.
“I think people are paying more attention to food, how it's produced, the characteristics… I see this as a real opportunity,” says Reiter. We want people to challenge us because that will give us room to improve. I think the more people are interested, the more we can offer that."
See the full conversation with Miles Reiter and Brie Reiter Smith below: