Nate Offenberg – Pacific Farms
“For any family-owned business with a global footprint, strong relationships with partners around the world are just as important,” he tells Terra Firma.
Pacific Farms, which has corporate offices in Reno, Nevada, Oakland, California, and Fujian, China, delivers minimally processed vegetable ingredients to partners across the globe. It’s flagship product harkens back to the company’s origin as Pacific Farms Gold Garlic, which produced the first commercially available premium dehydrated garlic from China.
To keep Pacific Farms growing, Offenberg says he plans to expand its product line by growing the company’s research and development department and acquiring other businesses. The company has grown by an average of 15 percent year over year since its inception in 1998.
“We are highly interested in mergers and acquisitions as a way to continue our upward trajectory and expansion,” he says.
Maintaining consistency throughout the business’s many iterations is a testament to the relationships built and forged since Offenberg’s father started working for Pacific Farms in 1998. Overall, Offenberg says the company boasts nearly a 99 percent retention rate among customers.
“We’d be nowhere without the people who’ve supported our efforts and worked alongside Pacific Farms all these years,” he says.
In simple terms, Pacific Farms sources garlic, dehydrated vegetables, vegetable purees and other ingredients that are used by some of the biggest food makers in the world, including seven of the top 10 largest food manufacturers.
As a “sourcing guy,” Offenberg spends a lot of time traveling to growers and production bases. About 90 percent of the world’s garlic is grown in China—there are roughly 900,000 acres of garlic across the country. He estimates he’s been to China 30 times in the past decade and often spends several weeks there during each visit.
“This year, I’m going to Mexico, Canada, Honduras, Egypt, Dubai, Argentina and India in the name of source development,” he says.
Despite his proclivity for creating and fostering relationships, Offenberg knows his limitations, so when a big customer wants expert analysis on a matter, he puts his ego aside and defers to seasoned professionals Pacific Farms employs just for these situations. The Pacific Farms staff has over 300 years of collective food industry experience ranging from food safety, regulatory compliance, technical knowledge, sales, marketing and logistics.
“We’ve got about 20 core suppliers globally that have been with us for decades, and we add new ones every year,” Offenberg says. “It says a lot about the way we run our business and the way we’ve developed and maintained these partnerships.”
Trusting the process
Offenberg says he seeks suppliers that put a premium on sustainability and continuity. For example, he looks for suppliers that can support best farming practices of the crop and owners who are highly involved in the operations of their business. U.S. food industry standards are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, but in many other countries where Pacific Farms operates and does business, Offenberg says the standards are lower.
For example, soil contaminates, such as heavy metals and pesticides, may not be highly regulated in some countries. Pacific Farms has always tested 100 percent of its inbound material prior to departing the origin against all U.S. standards, using U.S.-based laboratories. Offenberg says this ensures products will be safe and meet customer specifications, and that no sub-standard product is introduced to the Pacific Farms inventory stream.
Could Pacific Farms operate under one standard in one country and under other standards in other jurisdictions? Sure. But that isn’t sustainable, Offenberg says.
“Instead, we partner with growing suppliers in places around the world and help bring producers up to the standards our customers expect,” he says.
In Central America, for example, there is a processor of chili peppers—another vegetable Pacific Farms supplies—that isn’t up to U.S. industry standards. But it could be with the proper investment and the expertise and support from Pacific Farms, Offenberg says. Pacific Farms is always willing to invest its technical resources and know-how to open new origins of supply.
“We need to develop sources outside of places like China, and we need to bring these processors up to U.S. standards,” Offenberg says. “My job is to ensure we have the right people in the right positions to make that happen.”
His father’s footsteps
Being in the position of authority at Pacific Farms was not always in Offenberg’s plans.
His father, Garry, was a truck driver, warehouse operator and eventually worked at a major garlic processing facility for McCormick & Company, the well-known spice and extract brand. In 1998, Garry Offenberg approached Melchers, a German conglomerate that dabbled in the garlic trade, about opening a garlic import company run by himself and a partner, Helmuth Starnitzky. This was the birth of Pacific Farms
Five years later, when Melchers announced plans to close its U.S. office, Offenberg and his partner took over Pacific Farms, and it went from a big organization to a small family-owned business.
Nate Offenberg earned a degree in political science with a focus on international business from the University of California-Berkeley, and while in college, he worked for Melchers filling sample jars for Pacific Farms.
“Seeing how my dad and Helmuth built the business was a life changing experience,” Offenberg says. “They taught me so much. Seeing the business transition from a very corporate environment under Melchers, to its rebirth as a family business was incredibly impactful.”
After college, Offenberg says he thought he would be a lawyer, but he quickly realized that wasn’t the right path to take. He spent several years as a product manager in the outdoor industry, where he helped design medical kits, survival tools and other accessories for adventure sports. When his dad and Starnitzky decided to retire, Offenberg jumped at the opportunity to make the family business his own.
“I accomplished a lot of goals by the time I was 30,” he says. “Now, I’m in my 40s and have seen a lot and learned a lot. I get excited about teaching our employees what I’ve learned and what I learned from my dad and continuing his legacy in the industry.”
Offenberg recently took on a private equity investor, Tillridge Global Agribusiness Partners, and he says he is thinking about what Pacific Farms will look like in the future.
“The culture is amazing, and our people are passionate about the perfect execution of our plan and making things happen the right way,” he says.
View this feature in the Terra Firma Vol. I 2023 Edition here.
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