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Riggio Distribution Co. in the business of health

In southeastern Michigan, Riggio Distribution Co. is a great facilitator. The produce wholesale and distribution company partners with international, domestic and local growers to service all facets of the food supply. But it is not just fruits and vegetables that it is selling, rather it is a healthy lifestyle.

“We handle a full line of conventional and organic produce,” said Dominic Riggio, company president. “But when you consider the business, we are really providing vitamins in the form of food.” And the team bends over backwards to do so.

Founded in 1984 when Riggio’s father, Phil, purchased the business, the three Riggio brothers — Dominic, Phil and Vince — now own and operate the Detroit-based namesake with more than a little help from the rest of the family.

RIGGIO-Logo-JPEG-3 The distributor operates across the entire food supply chain, from foodservice and broadline distributors to national and independent retail banners, all way down to one-person shops. Short of being in the actual field, the fully integrated company handles all aspects of business.

This includes nurturing the supplier relationships that were built over many years, sometimes decades. “We work very closely with a great network of growers, and are able to serve as a conduit for those who want to expand their footprint,” said Riggio, using seasonal produce as an example. “We are able to work with small farmers to incorporate local, seasonal products into our range of offerings at the precise time they are peaking.”

Nestled amid the industry’s players is not a position the team takes lightly. They use their expertise and connectivity to support the local and broader industry. This could include educating small Michigan farms on topics such as food safety, which according to Riggio can involve a lot of intimidating documentation for those new to the process, to providing marketing support to larger growers who need insight into a new market.

In this way, the team’s reputation precedes them. “Our customers are confident that we vet suppliers, and our suppliers are confident that we are doing the right thing with their product,” explained Riggio. “We help them because they help us.”

The strength of their industry relationships helps them stay ahead of the curve. The team has watched the local market shift as consumer taste preferences and cooking styles change over the years. The value-added trend is a notable one, and it continues to change the landscape of the fresh produce department, sparing no category or commodity.

“There is steady growth throughout the years and decades in value-added,” said Riggio. “Remember when fresh, peeled baby carrots first came out, no one thought they would sell. Now they have taken over the market.”

Other trends affecting the industry elicit a chuckle from Riggio. “There was a time when people only bought kale to feed their iguanas. We couldn’t get rid of it then. But now we can’t get enough of it. That is just the nature of produce. It changes fast.”

Keeping up with the trends is not easy but the team stays vigilant. They are always looking at new ways to operate, new products and new lines. Next up is a collaboration with local growers to develop a destination of “homegrown” products for consumers who prefer to shop local. This is in addition to the ongoing effort to build up the organic side of the business, which already includes a full line, but according to Riggio continues to improve in availability and price.

After that there will be something else, as the team always has hot coals in the fire.

“Produce is a tough business, but we come to work each day focused on the fundamentals that we learned from our dad,” Riggio noted.