Q&A: John Anderson reflects on almost 50 years with Coquitlam-based Oppy

The CEO of produce grower Oppy was recently inducted into the Business Laureates of BC Hall of Fame.

Credit: YouTube

The CEO of produce grower Oppy was recently inducted into the Business Laureates of BC Hall of Fame

Q: First off, congrats on being inducted into the Business Laureates of BC Hall of Fame. What did that feel like? 

A: It was a big honour. There are a lot of people in there who have contributed a lot to the province and to the people who work in it.

Q: Oppy (formerly Oppenheimer Group and now majority-owned by Dole) has been around since the founding of British Columbia—165 years. You’ve been with the company for 48 of those years. How has it changed since you’ve been a part of it? 

A: I started working in the warehouse, unloading trucks and rail cars. It was one office then, the company did about $7 million in sales. Then there was an opportunity in sales to distribute apples and kiwis from New Zealand. We started expanding; opened an office in Seattle, then California, Philadelphia. We took the opportunity to expand the business by offering year-round supplies of more and more categories, like kiwi and grapes. Then we got into marketing, transportation and value-added products. In the early days of something like Granny Smith apples, people thought they were tough on your tummy, so we’d work with newspaper and food editors to add them into recipes. 

Q: What kinds of products do you carry nowadays? 

All kinds—apples, pears, kiwi fruits, citrus, cherries, grapes, plums, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and in our greenhouse we have peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, among others.

Q: And how many employees do you have?

A: Directly 350 employees, but we’re probably dealing with over 400,000 growers around the world who operate product in 27 countries. We have 18 offices around the world now.

Q: How much has inflation impacted the business in the last few years?

A: It’s been a big issue; costs went through the roof. They didn’t double or triple, they quadrupled and quintupled. It had a big impact, you see it at the grocery store. There’s a bit of easing now—freight rates are coming down, but costs are still high on storage and repack. Anything with labour is continuing to go up, that segment of it is still high. Inflation’s come down, but if you’re talking about 4 percent this year, that’s on top of the 8 percent last year.

Q: What have you done in order to survive that?

A: We’ve had to be efficient as we possibly can be in repacking and shipping. Had to push prices up, otherwise the growers would go broke. Right now, price increases have flattened off, they’re not at the levels they were before. We were seeing 15- and 20- percent increases. Now you’re seeing 5-percent.

Q: How about consumption? Has that gone up or down recently?

A: In COVID, consumer demand went up because people were eating more at home. Now people are travelling and eating out a bit more. So consumption has flattened off, too. It’s not hitting the growth rates it was before. 

Q: You’ve managed to stick around the company for longer than many people’s careers. How would you characterize your leadership style?

A: Well, it’s about collaboration with people. Our most important assets are honesty and trust. We deal around the world—people have to trust you with products that are perishable. They do one crop a year and that’s it for them. They have to trust that you’re going to handle it right, and the retailer has to trust that you’re going to deliver it in the fashion they want. Service the produce business, dominate customer service, compete on price. We want to make sure that when you’re talking to anyone on the team you get the same responses. I know I’m fortunate to be part of one of the largest produce companies in the world, and that I get to do it in B.C.