The story of RJO Produce began as the story of two brothers: Rob and John O’Rourke, and their mutual love of agriculture.
For Rob, the love affair began at the age of 16 when he drove to Bakersfield to pick up a box of grapes for a neighbor. For John, it was when he started working as a fruit inspector – also at age 16. For both, it was the beginning of lifelong careers in the produce industry.
Rob and John worked in a variety of agricultural roles to put themselves through Fresno State and, after both had graduated, they made the decision to combine their skills and passion by establishing their own business together. In 1993, RJO Produce was born.
Eyes and ears in the field
Rob and John knew two things would distinguish RJO from the competition: personal service and trusted information. So from their first day in business, the brothers made it a priority to send their team out into the growing regions where they could see and report first-hand about the commodities and quality in the field. It’s a practice that continues to this day, and benefits RJO customers who appreciate having “eyes and ears in the field.”
Old-school rules, new-school tools
While this uniquely personal and trustworthy approach to customer service is responsible for a great deal of RJO’s success, the company also became well-known for embracing innovation. The brothers saw the value of investing in new technologies, yet never at the expense of the values RJO was built on. John called it, “following old-school rules with new-school tools” – a balance that has been key to RJO’s success.
Rob, in particular, was passionate about innovation, and helped the company not only keep pace with evolving technologies, but set the pace. He led RJO and its customers out of the dark ages of phone calls and fax machines, and into the dawn of the digital age.
A new opportunity
By 2004, word of RJO’s success had spread far and wide. Rob left RJO to become the vice president of produce and floral for Topco Associates – a multi-billion-dollar nationwide grocery cooperative. But his departure was short-lived, as he returned to RJO in 2007 as vice president of business development.
Invigorated by Rob’s return and inspired by the current state of technology, the brothers green-lighted the development of RJO’s Bird Dog app, which would become another of the company’s signature products and give its customers a decisive competitive advantage.
In 2013, Rob was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He fought bravely, remained intensely involved in RJO and never allowed the disease to rob him of his zeal for life. In July of 2018, Rob passed away at the age of 54, leaving an indelible mark on the people and the company he left behind.
After nearly 40 years working in procurement, inspection, sales and marketing of all major produce categories, Rob’s influence is felt throughout the produce and retail industries. His presence remains very much a part of RJO’s operation and culture.
Perhaps East Coast Operations Director, Fred Valentino, says it best: “Rob would constantly challenge us to think differently, yet he insisted we never compromised our core values.”
John adds: “We will honor Rob’s legacy of high standards of professionalism and customer service. Those are things we worked hard to establish, and we will most assuredly uphold those going forward.”
John and the RJO team remain committed to continuing the company’s mission and fulfilling the brothers’ vision of serving customers with personal service and trusted information. Investing in innovation, while upholding the standards RJO was founded upon.
As president of RJO, John is proud of the company’s journey to the top of the produce industry, and excited about introducing its next generation of innovation and service.