Freshway Foods announced today that Larry Schultz, 45-year veteran of the fresh produce industry, is retiring. Larry started his career with the Crosset Company in June, 1970, two days after his high school graduation, and will wrap up his career with Freshway Foods in early 2016
Larry grew up in Melbourne, Kentucky on a large farm. He credits his father for teaching him the fundamentals of business at a young age. “We learned about managing a P&L at 5 or 6 years of age,” Larry says. “My father was the first CEO I worked for. He would harvest green beans in the Fall, and if the beans didn’t sell at market twice, he would disc under the crop and plant something else,” he explains. “He felt that planting another crop would bring more money, while everyone else was trying to sell beans for lower and lower prices.”
Larry learned responsibility at a young age. By age 7 he was milking three head of cows by hand every day. He had a regular route selling eggs, and in the Fall, he and his siblings picked berries, which they sold at local markets before heading off to school each morning. At the age of 16, Larry moved to a larger farm to work for his older brother, and was responsible for over 100 head of cattle. “We learned to understand responsibility and accountability,” Larry says. “If you didn’t feed the chickens, you knew there was going to be a problem. If you didn’t feed them right, then you knew they weren’t going to lay eggs,” he explains. “That’s where the money came from.”
Larry was 16 years old the first time he ever went to the grocery store. His father would buy a 50 pound bag of flour and a 50 pound bag of sugar every week. The family raised everything else they needed on the family farm. “Each night we churned butter, and each child took a turn,” Larry says. “My mother made 6 to 8 loaves of bread from scratch every day, in addition to working in the vegetable garden with the younger children,” he adds.
Larry was interested in growing vegetables from a young age. He always had a garden, and in 1979, at age 26, Larry started a farmers’ market in Northern Kentucky called Tailgate Markets. Up to 56 local farms brought in produce five nights a week to different locations in the community. “We met at churches and in shopping centers,” Larry says. “I was raising 20 acres of vegetables with my brother at the time, and after I got off work I would head to the market to sell our produce,” he adds. The Tailgate Markets were a success and are still in operation today.
On June 1, 1970, Larry started work at the Crosset Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. He worked full-time in the company’s repack department and drove a milk truck for his father during his free time. After spending time in the repack department, he was moved to the warehouse.
In 1976, Larry had the opportunity to drive a delivery truck for Crosset. He delivered fresh produce to T-way and Supervalue stores in West Virginia and Virginia. “Drivers were expected to be salesmen; if there was extra product on the truck, it was my responsibility to sell it,” Larry explains. “That experience got me interested in sales and working with customers, which is something I still enjoy today,” he adds.
In 1980, the Crosset Company wa purchased by Castellini Company, and Larry moved to second shift as a production foreman. In 1988, he was transferred to Club Chef, where he held increasing levels of responsibility until leaving to join Freshway Foods in 2003.
Larry joined Freshway Foods in 2003 as Director of Operations. “What I liked when I came to Freshway was that it was a young company that was wanting to grow.” Larry says. “Both owners of the company were young and had aggressive goals for the company’s growth. I knew it was a great opportunity,” he adds.
Larry took the opportunity in 2006 to move to Sanford, Florida to set up a pilot processing facility. “This was a learning experience for me, as I dealt with customers every day,” Larry says.
In 2008, Larry returned to Sidney, Ohio. “2008 was a difficult year in our industry due to the economy, but we are a nimble company and we were able to adjust and regrow our business,” Larry says.
During his tenure at Freshway, Larry has supervised hundreds of people, and he has trained people who have gone on to become supervisors, general managers and vice presidents. “You have to drill down to every associate, that in their heart they need to be sure they did the best job they could do,” Larry says. “You have to know in your heart that you have done the right thing,” he adds. “In our industry, you want to make the safest product possible, and remember that there are families and children who eat our products.”
“Larry has left a permanent positive mark on all of us here at Freshway,” says Phil Gilardi, Owner of Freshway Foods. “His drive to teach others and help them realize their full potential not only in the world of produce, but more importantly, in the game of life, is an example for all of us to follow,” he adds.
Larry is proud of his accomplishments at Freshway Foods, but one project holds a special place in his heart. “When I joined Freshway, the company didn’t have a recycling program,” he explains. “Over the past 13 years, I have helped to build a robust recycling program that delivers profit to Freshway,” he adds.
Larry’s strong work ethic has played a significant role in his success at Freshway. “The work ethic instilled in Larry at an early age paid him dividends his entire life. You can teach someone how to evaluate the quality of produce, interpret yield and labor statistics, and organize people, but to lead the way with a can-do, ‘whatever it takes to make the customer happy’ mentality, is something that must come from within,” says Devon Beer, President of Freshway Foods. “Larry has done an outstanding job of instilling that attitude in our managers and workforce.”
In addition to his work at Freshway, Larry has made a significant contribution to the Sidney/Shelby County Community. “We are very proud of the impact that Larry has made in the local community as well,” says Devon Beer. “As demanding as his job was, he seemed to always find time to give back in a meaningful way to those who needed a helping hand,” he adds. “The best example of this is his work with Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Larry was not only a ‘Big’ himself, but served on the board of directors and worked hard to make it a stronger organization capable of helping more people.”
Larry shared some of the significant changes the fresh produce industry has gone through since 1970. “When fresh-cut processing started, it was because you had too much of a commodity. Whole produce was harvested from a field first, then processors would come in and clean up the field,” Larry says. “Today, processors don’t allow any other company into the field,” he adds, “This enables us to better control food safety.”
Product packaging has changed in the past 45 years as well. “We had never heard of oxygen rate transmission and we used the same film for everything. We packed everything in a 5 or 10 pound bag, which we closed with a metal clamp,” Larry says. “Average shelf life was 5-7 days, which would never be accepted today,” he adds.
Larry points out that transportation has also changed dramatically in the past 45 years. “When I started working in 1970, raw produce came in on railroad cars – there were very few semi trucks,” he explains. “Product sat directly on the floor of the railroad cars,” he adds. “I remember the first time I ever saw product on pallets. It was 1974 and the Sam Tanksley trucking company brought a load of produce on pallets from the west coast,” he remembers. “It was such a big deal that everyone wanted to look at the product and see how it rode on the trip.”
Larry believes the future is bright for the fresh produce industry. “The good news is that our focus on healthy eating is growing,” Larry says. “Produce is not only the best thing to eat for your health, it also has great flavor,” he adds. “I am especially excited to see traditional commodities like turnips and beets becoming popular again. They were popular when I started in this industry, and now they have come back and everyone is eating them.”
Larry encourages young people to consider careers in the fresh produce industry. “If you are willing to learn and dedicate yourself to your job, there are unlimited career opportunities for you in fresh produce,” Larry says. “I have worked my way up from the repack department to Vice President of Operations during my career,” he adds, “It didn’t come free; there were a lot of nights where I wanted to go home but I stayed until the work was done because it was my responsibility.”
Larry is married with three children, two step-children and twelve grandchildren. Although he is retiring this year, he plans to keep contributing to the fresh produce industry. “I plan to travel up and down I-75 from Michigan to Florida and work with farmers to help them develop and grow their business,” Larry says.
“It is great to know that Larry is only a phone call away and will stay close to his family here at Freshway,” says Phil Gilardi.
Larry also plans to spend more time with his grandchildren, and he will join the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization in Florida. He also plans to join his wife, Julie, in volunteering at Hospice.