Since Allen Caviar started working full-time for Liberty Fruit Co., the family business has seen annual sales grow more than 800% and increased its staff from 28 people to 400 full-time employees.

The grandson of founders Issie and Mary Caviar remembers helping on Saturday mornings beginning at age 5 in the City Market in Kansas City, Mo. Shoppers would try to bargain, but he knew better.

“I’d yell over to my dad, ‘Can we do four for a dollar instead of three?’ so I’ve been learning the business for a long time,” he said.

“All of this work — sweeping floors and rearranging pallets in the warehouse — led me to appreciate the employees we have now,” Caviar said. “I’ve always managed by example and I’m a firm believer in praise and rewards for good work. It’s a privilege to have our employees working for us.”

Caviar, 45, went full-time at Liberty in 1991, working in sales and then as a buyer. In the mid-1990s he earned the title of vice president, working with his father Arnold Caviar who was president. A few years later the father and son upgraded to CEO and president, respectively.

“Titles never meant much to me or my father. We’ve always had that in common,” Caviar said. They differed, however, on other points.

The father was happy with six used box trucks. The son wanted to lease new vehicles. Their generation gap included different views on computerization and marketing.

“In 2000 when Allen changed the logo, it made an immediate impact overnight on how customers perceived us in the market place,” said Mike Logan, Liberty’s vice president of operations. “Allen has continued to focus on our perception and image in the Kansas City area and expanded this regionally to our eight-state footprint.”

Liberty now has 70 leased trucks. Annual sales this year are projected at $130 million, up from $14 million in 1991. Caviar is particularly proud of Liberty’s 97% SQF Level 3 audit score, which he attributes to programs and upgrades he put in place.

In 2001 Caviar conceived and launched Liberty’s fresh-cut division, Carol’s Cuts named after his mother. In 2003 he added a repack operation, Mary’s Pride named for his grandmother.

“My son, Allen, knows the produce business,” Arnold Caviar said. “He has worked up the ranks and continues to excel.”