In a recent interview with Food Tank, father-daughter J. Miles Reiter and Brie Reiter Smith of Driscoll’s, the world’s largest berry company, talk about Driscoll’s plans for a greener, consumer-friendly future and how their family values translate across the company’s supply chain.
Reiter, a fourth-generation grower and the grandson of one of Driscoll’s founders, now serves as Driscoll’s chair and CEO. Reiter Smith works as the Director of Blackberry Product Leadership. She is also the owner and operator of a blueberry company called BerrySmith Ltda. in Chile.
“I think we have the most continuity of any family growing berries in the United States,” Reiter tells Food Tank. But both Reiter and Reiter Smith acknowledge that Driscoll’s legacy extends beyond the company’s nuclear family.
Operating by what they call a One Family philosophy, the company says they celebrate the contribution of its workers across every step of the supply chain. Reiter Smith says Driscoll’s has always referred to the company as one family because the company is not vertically integrated—meaning that, rather than growing and selling its own fruit, it works with thousands of independent growers across the globe.
“We had to immediately acknowledge that every single person who played a part in that process was kind of included, at least conceptually, as part of our company and what we do,” Reiter Smith says. She notes that the company sees its own employees and the workers employed by its suppliers as equally important.
Reiter adds that there are many points of deviation along the supply chain: breeders who are under pressure to make disease-resistant, high-yield plants; growers who do not want soft fruit or shrink; and harvesters who want berries that are easy to pick. The company tries to remind these workers that, despite their differing needs, the endpoint matters most so they deliver only the finest berries.
Driscoll’s has grown roughly 15 percent annually for more than 30 years. Reiter attributes this success to the company’s focus on elevating its workers and partners. He suggests that Driscoll’s would not have seen the same growth if it focused on taking as much of the pie as possible.
Reiter explains that the company offers its suppliers access to cutting-edge technology and markets otherwise outside of their reach. He and Reiter Smith hope that, by creating new opportunities for workers and growers, Driscoll’s can create ripple effects across communities.
“We have big growers, small growers, everything in between, Reiter tells Food Tank. “Three, four-generation families.” He says that families under the Driscoll’s umbrella have gone from pickers to farm owners and the children of farm workers have become PhDs.
Reiter and Reiter Smith also hope the sense of renewed appreciation for field and factory workers spurred by COVID-19 will have a lasting impact. “I was really hopeful when there was so much positive press about essential workers and farm workers,” Reiter Smith says.
“Finally there’s a lot of energy behind this, and I’m so hopeful we’ll see some real sustaining change. In California—at least in most areas—farm workers have gotten priority in vaccinations. I think that’s a really good indication that maybe some of this support is going to stick around.”
Reiter and Reiter Smith also talk about the ways Driscoll’s is responding to shifting consumer preferences, like embracing less than perfect-looking fruits and working to reduce its water and plastic use—which they readily admit is going to be a great undertaking.
“I think people are paying more attention to the food, how it’s produced, the characteristics…I view this as really an opportunity,” Reiter says. We want people to challenge us because that’ll give us room to get better. I think the more people are interested, the more we can provide that.”
Watch the full conversation with Miles Reiter and Brie Reiter Smith below:
Photo courtesy of Nanxi Wei, Unsplash