ORLANDO, Fla. — The founder of a leading garlic shipper and marketer had never seen or eaten the vegetable when he started the operation that helped transform the way garlic was sold in the nation’s supermarkets.

Today, Andy Caneza’s company, Spice World Inc., sells millions of pounds of garlic and is celebrating its 60th year in business.

Caneza entered the garlic business in New Orleans in 1949 while a senior studying journalism at Loyola University New Orleans.

He started selling garlic to area mom-and-pop grocery stores between classes and when he wasn’t in school.

Garlic marketer Spice World marks 60th anniversary

Doug Ohlemeier

Andy Caneza, chief executive officer of Spice World Inc., Orlando, Fla., examines some fresh garlic being packed on the line in mid-September. The company is marking its 60th anniversary this year.

While visiting one of the Crescent City’s many corner grocery stores, he saw crude little bags of garlic broken into cloves setting on a table. The store’s owner suggested Caneza enter the garlic-supplying business.

After borrowing $10 from family, Caneza paid $10 for a sack of garlic. He soon changed vendors after finding he could buy garlic from that vendor’s supplier for $7.

Caneza then got in touch with grower Joseph Gubser of the Joseph Gubser Co., Gilroy, Calif., and bought a rail car full of garlic.

Working out of his mother’s basement, Caneza’s mailbox overflowed with orders. Soon, he would find himself selling garlic to up to 2,000 stores.

After years in the business, Caneza said he finds the business as difficult as ever.

“This is a very tough business,” he said. “The risk and reward on fresh just isn’t there. Garlic is very hard now.”

None of the people that were in business when Caneza entered the business remain in the deal, he said.

At 84 years of age, Caneza hasn’t seemed to have slowed down much. He still visits the office three times a week and says he doesn’t have any plans to lessen his involvement.

“He lives and sleeps the business,” said Louis Hymel III, director of purchasing and marketing, and a Caneza second cousin. “I have seen him with his iPhone in a restaurant at 11 o’clock at night talking the business.”

One of the things that helped drive Spice World’s garlic sales success was his frequent summer visits to retailers.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Caneza loaded his wife and five children in a station wagon and drove them to retailers.

On those month-long customer visits, in which he visited every state, he called on about every chain store that existed before consolidation reduced the number of supermarket chains.

“Those were long car trips,” said Jane Prue, office manager and Caneza’s oldest daughter who works with the company.  “We will never forget the hard work and the humble beginnings that went into the business in the early years.  As kids, we were fortunate to witness firsthand the hard work that is necessary to keep a successful business moving forward. This has stayed with us.”

Three generations of Canezas are involved in the business, which has grown to become one of the leading growers, shippers, processor and packers of retail fresh and processed garlic.

Caneza’s seven granddaughters and two of his seven grandsons work in the business.

When Caneza entered the business, suppliers shipped 1 million to 3 million pounds of fresh garlic a year. Today, that number approaches 200 million pounds out of 700 million pounds total, Caneza said.

Per-capita consumer consumption also has increased from a tiny fraction of a pound to 2 pounds today, he said.

Fresh sales account for about half of Spice World’s sales.

Because of convenience, Caneza said he sees ready-to-eat jarred garlic as the future for retail garlic sales.

Citing proprietary information, Caneza declined to state the millions of dollars in sales or volume of product his company ships.

He said the industry is dominated by three large firms, and said Spice World is the leading U.S. fresh and processed garlic supplier to chain stores.

Since its founding, Caneza has expanded his company and the sale of garlic into other areas and has made innovations in areas such as packaging and food safety.

Spice World added a line of spices during the 1970s, entered the processing deal in 1984, and after having past partnership deals with growers, become a grower during the opening of the 1990s.

The company grows on a couple thousand acres in the central San Joaquin Valley with a packing and processing plant in Coalinga, Calif.

Andy Caneza, chief executive officer of Spice World Inc., Orlando, Fla., examines some fresh garlic being packed on the line in mid-September. The company is marking its 60th anniversary this year.