Australia’s produce industry may not be as mature as North America’s.
But one man is helping to modernize it and expand his business before everyone catches up.
Many in the North American industry know Michael Simonetta, chief executive officer of Perfection Fresh Australia, Homewood, New South Wales, for his work in bringing the first affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association to Australia.
Simonetta serves as chairman of PMA Australia-New Zealand, which started last October. Before that, he was country council chairman, and he serves on the main board of PMA, in his 12th year of involvement with the association.
He said the June PMA Fresh Connections in Melbourne was an eye-opening event for the Australian produce industry. Simonetta said it was a smaller version of a Fresh Summit with about 750 attendees, 60 exhibitors and presentations by seven of the eight biggest retailers in the country.
“From my learnings of going to Fresh Summit for 20 years, retailer-led sessions seem to be bursting at the seams,” he said.
“That was certainly successful (in the Australia event).”
While he’s reluctant to claim credit for PMA’s success in his home country, PMA’s president and chief executive officer Bryan Silbermann said Simonetta has been a valuable leader in a variety of roles.
“He’s one of those true thought leaders who understands that global development is as much about the exchange of intellectual property and practices as it is about products,” Silbermann said.
At Perfection Fresh, it’s about ideas and products.
Simonetta joined the company in 1984 and has been chief executive officer since 1991.
In that time, Perfection Fresh has transformed from a traditional terminal market wholesaler to having a stake in growing, importing, breeding, packing, logistics — basically everything along the supply chain, he said, with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.
And Simonetta has figured out something many in the North American industry have.
“Produce is a business that doesn’t allow you to become complacent,” he said.
“Any business plan has to be liquid to change.”
About six years ago, Perfection Fresh became one of several Australian companies to work with Pom Wonderful LLC, Los Angeles, importing fresh pomegranates and juice.
After the first year, Pom Wonderful worked with only one Australian importer, said Kurt Vetter, then vice president of global sales and now senior vice president of Asian-Pacific markets.
“It became clear that Michael and his team were so far ahead of the competition with the pomegranate category, that they became our exclusive partner,” Vetter said.
In addition to the Pom Wonderful partnership, Perfection Fresh also imports U.S. table grapes and pomegranates from Sun World International, Bakersfield, Calif., and Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles.
In November, Simonetta said his company plans to start marketing Tanimura & Antle’s Artisan lettuce line through an exclusive licensing agreement. All the product will be grown locally.
“Our strategy is to be creative and innovative,” he said. “We’ve had many more successes than failures.”