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Sunfresh Produce

Why 2016 is important: Firm targets Tampa for expansion opportunities.

When Steve Clark purchased Sunfresh Produce in 2012, he immediately knew changes had to be made.

Prior to his purchase, Sunfresh had a large number of small customers, Clark says. But with high expenses, there was a low ceiling for errors, and profit margins. Under Clark's ownership the fresh produce distributor cut ties with about half that customer base.

Sunfresh has a clearer focus now, Clark says. White tablecloth restaurants, assisted-living centers, hospitals, schools and country clubs are among the company's target client base. It currently has about 350 customers along the west coast of Florida, starting just south of Tampa and stretching to Naples.

In Clark's first year as owner, the Englewood-based company had $8 million in sales. That figure has grown 75%, to $14 million, in the last three years. Clark expects Sunfresh to surpass $20 million in the next two or three years.

“The market is certainly here,” Clark says. “Part of the problem in this business, though, is you need some sort of niche because there are so many customers.”

While it can't compete head to head with industry giant Sysco, which had sales of $48 billion in fiscal year 2015, Sunfresh has found its niche with its farm-to-table approach, Clark says. “We have to have something that's unique to us,” he says. “We care about what they serve. That's our focus.”

To ensure the produce is fresh and of high quality, Sunfresh has developed buying relationships with 55 local farms to help deliver to more demanding customers, Clark says.

When building relationships with potential customers, face-to-face interaction is the best route for Sunfresh, Clark adds. The company's sales organization is reflective of that strategy: There's a section of ex-chefs and people from the restaurant industry, and a section of service representatives.

Heading into 2016, expanding into Tampa is the biggest goal for Sunfresh, Clark says. That includes the possibility of a new facility to keep up with demand. A onetime cell phone tower firm executive, Clark says he won't blindly pursue customers in the region.

“It's all about targeting a segment,” Clark says. “The key is to figure how to expand into the (Tampa) market and what the customer base needs.”

Follow Steven Benna on Twitter @steve_benna


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