Tina Fitzgerald, Independent Purchasing Cooperative
Tina Fitzgerald, Independent Purchasing Cooperative

Tina Fitzgerald believes success can’t be achieved by focusing only on the bottom line. She is a proponent of the triple bottom-line approach — people, planet, profit.

Her most persuasive tactic in convincing America’s largest restaurant chain and its produce suppliers to adopt the triple bottom-line approach is to focus on profit.

“I show them they can make money by practicing corporate responsibility. When they understand the profit is there, they’re sold,” said Fitzgerald, a produce purchasing and corporate responsibility consultant for Miami-based Independent Purchasing Cooperative.

In her job with IPC, Fitzgerald oversees the purchasing of all produce used in 35,000 Subway restaurants. IPC is the sole authorized purchasing agent for the chain, and in addition to produce, IPC secures everything for Subway, even toilet paper.

“My favorite part of the job is making a difference,” Fitzgerald said.

“If we make one change, there can be a huge impact just because of the size of the operation.”

Fitzgerald cited one decision during one regional season for one commodity as an example of that impact.

By switching from trucks to rail to ship onions out of a distribution center, a savings of 200,000 gallons of diesel was realized in one harvest season.

“Everybody defines sustainability differently,” she said.

“And sustainability as I define it is different than corporate responsibility. But they are related.”

For Fitzgerald, 45, corporate responsibility involves treating workers right, helping society and being mindful of the environmental impact of your business.

Some of the workers she watches out for are Subway franchise owners. When the chain decided to launch an avocado promotion, she locked in an affordable price with avocado suppliers.

“We saved the franchisees millions when the price of avocados went through the roof this year,” she said.

The avocado promotion helped her garner this year’s Foodservice Achievement Award from The Packer.

Fitzgerald acknowledges she has an easier row to hoe than many when it comes to convincing a corporate entity to live by the triple bottom line. She started out years ago with Subway as a development agent, selling franchises in the Northwest when the chain only had 5,000 restaurants. Eventually, she became a vice president with the company.

Knowing the operation from the inside helped her and Mike Spinazzola, now president of Diversified Restaurant Systems in San Diego, develop a produce purchasing program that led to the creation of IPC.

When Fitzgerald and Spinazzola initially discussed the concept at an annual Produce Marketing Association show, they were laughed at, she said. No one thought they would be able to coordinate supplies in the necessary quantities.

Now, more than 20 processors and repackers representing hundreds of growers supply Subway’s franchisees with hundreds of millions of pounds of fresh produce annually.

How did she do it?

“I’m pretty outspoken,” she said.