Out of the box thinking helps produce business adapt

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In 1981 Maria de Lourdes Pulido taught her children the importance of hard work, and her children helped her with the family business that began as a small neighborhood convenience store. She grew a passion for the wholesale business and now Chula Vista Food Services Inc is a wholesale produce distributor for small and large businesses throughout San Diego County. The business is run by her sons George and Ralph Lutes, along with George’s son Nicholas Luna, who is the business’s CEO.

When COVID-19 hit, Luna saw an opportunity to expand the business and serve the community at the same time. It began selling 30 pound produce boxes for $20, which can be picked up on location or delivered anywhere in the county. The “Farmer’s Family Box” contains more than 20 different fruits and vegetables. Also, last year, the company opened a small retail area at the warehouse, giving the community an easier way to shop.

Luna said the company is now two-fold, its wholesale division and its retail site, that work “hand in hand.”

“We have 500-600 products from retail products to restaurant products, so our customer base is open to small businesses to large businesses,” he said.

“If you have a small business, you can do a couple orders on our Instagram and we do a side hustle to big restaurants that have up to 13 to 15 other restaurants in San Diego County.”

Luna said when COVID-19 hit, like everyone else in the world, they were scrambling on what to do with their core base of products.

“We had high hopes for 2020, trying to keep the ball rolling from 2019. We had a cooler full of products and we were like, ‘What the hell are we going to do with all of this stuff?’” he said.

Luna said that they do no like to waste products, so his father said to start breaking down products to whole boxes of tomatoes, avocados, lettuce, whatever they had.

“We started breaking it down to more consumer like products and decided to put it on Instagram and see how our friends and family react to it,” he said. “The first day we posted, we sold all our small boxes, 40 of them, and we sold them in one hour. We decided to do it the next day, and we had more than 400 phone calls that we missed from Monday to Thursday. We were bombarded with calls.”

Luna said that they heard that “call of need” from the community and reached out to its vendors that they work with that supports their everyday restaurant customers.

“We let them know what we were doing and if they have anything that they needed to get rid of, send it to us cheap and we will get rid of it. We will do all the boxes, we will bag it, and whatever we have to do,” he said.

Luna said as time went on, they saw the need for mom and pop consumers who were just trying to support their families.

“It was a huge call and we wanted to be there for our community,” he said.

“We have learned that our family is first as well as our community, and with a stronger community that we can get more support. That is what started the retail aspect of our business.”

In June 2020, they decided to create a small retail store at the warehouse so that the community had a small store that was safe, clean, and had good prices. He said the trio put their heads together and in a little more than three months, created the small grocery store.

“We went from 10 to 22 employees,” said Luna. “I have kept all of my staff members that have been here and made sure that they have kept their jobs during this pandemic.”

Luna said that the produce box is now a staple feature of the business.

“We want customers to come in here, pick up their produce box. They have their produce, so then they can come into the retail and pick up cereal, eggs, sausages, a few of the basics and they do not have to go to the grocery store,” he said. “They can go on with their lives, enjoy their family time, and not being at a grocery store for an hour or two. We want to make the shopping experience quick. We keep produce boxes made all day. We have dedicated staff that creates the produce boxes and makes them also ready for delivery. We are a family owned and operated small business here in Chula Vista and we want to keep working and support our community.”

In addition to the CVFS Farmer’s Box, CVFS offers a ceviche kit and boxes for special occasions. For Cinco de Mayo, it offered a Chip and Dip Party pack for $10.

Chula Vista Food Services is located 753 Anita St., Suite A. Visit its Facebook and Instagram page, or https://sites.google.com/chulavistafoods.com/home/home.

Out of the box thinking helps produce business adapt