Episode 197: Brian Antle
Jan 19, 2022
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Even though Tanimura & Antle wasn’t “officially” launched until 1982, the families that make up this incredible fresh produce team have a legacy that stems from 100 years of growing experience. The Tanimura family and Antle family lived 40 miles apart from each other, with the Tanimura family emigrating from Japan and the Antle family migrating to California from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl in the 1920’s.
During World War Two, the Antle family agreed to watch over the Tanimura’s land while some of the Tanimura family was placed in internment camps and two of the brothers fought in the war. When the war was over, the two families had an unmatched partnership and bond and decided to join forces; the Tanimuras growing the lettuce and the Antles marketing and selling it under their brand.
What started as a relationship between two families with a love for produce has now grown into a global company with 30,000 acres on the west coast, 7,000 employees annually, and sales across the Nation and internationally. Brian Antle, who got his start on the farm at the ripe age of 14 when he would get paid to move sprinkler pipes (a vital part of irrigation), jokes that “the plan was to get to 100,000 cases of produce a week.” The company now sells almost 140,000 boxes a day and about 40 million cases a year!
Tanimura & Antle’s core products are iceberg lettuce, romaine, red and green leaf, cauliflower, broccoli and celery. They also have organic produce, greenhouse grown produce, and an Artisan line of products that are uniquely branded for their different taste profiles, colors, qualities and crunchability. The Artisan family of specialty produce includes their Artisan Lettuce, Artisan Romaine, Artisan Sweet Gem, Artisan Baby Iceberg, Artisan Sweet Red Onions and Artisan Sweet Broccoli.
“They were the first company that put iceberg lettuce on a rail car on ice and shipped it from California to New York City and it arrived fresh. From there, as they say, the rest is history.” – Lori Taylor (5:45-5:56)
The cool thing about Tanimura & Antle is the many ‘firsts’ the company has ignited for the produce industry. Their family was the first to pack and wrap a head of lettuce in cellophane. They were also the first to use cardboard boxes and cool produce in vacuum cooling tubes prior to shipping, allowing the entire produce industry to move away from needing to ice everything and use rail cars.
Speaking of innovation, Tanimura & Antle even breeds their own seed genetics! The company can tailor their lettuce, to have a certain color, size or taste. They can also breed plants to become more resistant to certain disease or mildew pressures. Innovations in seed genetics ultimately allows Tanimura & Antle to harvest more product for consumption and decrease food waste at the field level. This is all done through natural plant breeding, none of these seeds are genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Tanimura & Antle truly strives to find sustainability in every corner of their operations!
Another innovative practice of the company is the use of automated technology. Tanimura & Antle has a group of diversified businesses, one of those being Stout, a company focused on “smart farm equipment”. With the cost and shortages of skilled agricultural labor, farmers are being challenged with doing more with less every day. Tanimura & Antle is investing in machines that can help supplement these labor shortages, such as machines that eliminate weeds in the field using artificial intelligence and computer vision systems. Machines like this will allow farmers to [AP1] utilize the employees in areas of agricultural production that cannot be automated, such as harvesting or operating these new machines. While this type of innovation can sometimes be viewed as eliminating jobs, they’re not. Innovations like this allow farmers to supplement the shortages within their work force in order to continue to feed the world.
One key to Tanimura & Antle’s success is how much they value the ground they grow on. They’re constantly rotating their crops and focus on keeping the ground healthy. Without healthy soil, they know they cannot grow a healthy crop.
Tanimura & Antle views their employees as their #1 asset. They ensure their employees are taken care of by providing things like a low cost employee housing complex, access to full health benefits, a matched 401k and one of the their proudest innovations, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). They were one of the first major grower shippers to adopt an ESOP in the United States! In 2017, the Tanimura and Antle families made the decision to make their employees official business partners and sold a portion of the company to the employees, creating the ESOP. The ESOP allows employees to earn ownership stocks of the company through years of service and loyalty to the company.
When it comes to enjoying their produce, make sure to try one of their Artisan or Greenhouse Grown vegetables. You can find Tanimura & Antle in most major grocery retailers across North America, and if not, be sure to ask your local produce manager to put Tanimura & Antle’s branded items on your grocery store shelf!
How to get involved
- Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
- Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.
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