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The Packer 25: Rob O’Rourke

Since its inception in 1993, RJO Produce Marketing has continually expanded its menu of services.

The Fresno, Calif., marketer still does some traditional commodity brokering, but has long since branched out into category management, market analysis, global sourcing and product inspection.

Vice president of sales and marketing Rob O’Rourke, who co-founded RJO Produce with his brother John O’Rourke, its president, helped make that transformation possible.

At a company with a history of embracing technology, the latest innovation is its Bird Dog app. The software captures data on color, sizing, texture and other attributes in the field on handheld devices.

“From those attributes we were able to develop a quality scoring system and weight them,” said O’Rourke, 51. “We have Bird Dog quality scores for all the commodities we do business with. If a customer wants his grapes greener and less of a cream finish, we weight that and tweak it against the market. We’re able to quantify quality over time and pass that information on to our customers to be able to help them make better decisions.”

The bulk of the company’s produce business is in fruit.

“We see RJO now as more of an information company,” he said. “We’re consistently looking to find new ways to add value. It’s not about the buy anymore. We see our value in being on the ground looking at product, understanding quality and prices, and what retail customers’ needs are based on their sales information.”

“What he’s doing is unique,” said Todd Linsky, vice president of organic sales for Grimmway Farms and Cal-Organic Farms. “The process they have, the app they created ... All that stuff is uncharted territory. It’s really raising the bar. From the standpoint of vision and integrity, Rob is fantastic.”

Still ongoing are experiments to incorporate Bird Dog into Google Glass. Whether that’s possible is unclear, but RJO Produce already uses Google Glass to shoot field photos and videos.

One offering is RJO Fresh Pics, short videos shot by quality staff in the orchard or vineyard and addressed to consumers. They can be attached to a quick-response code, with changing content weekly — on the growing region, for example. The videos often feature the retailer’s brand rather than a grower-shipper’s.

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