From apples and oranges to mangoes and grapes, the produce you find in your local Canadian supermarket was likely brought to you by The Oppenheimer Group. The 161-year-old company grows produce in 27 countries and ships more than 50 million cases annually through its supply chain to 1,300 retail, wholesaler and food-service customers in North America, Asia and Europe.
Chairman, CEO and Managing Partner John Anderson says that building strong partnerships with growers has been key to Oppy’s success, whether that means supporting citrus producers in South Africa, grape farmers in Chile or greenhouse growers in BC’s Lower Mainland. “In our business model, we invest a wide range of resources into grower partnerships that add high-quality fresh produce into our supply chain.”
Oppy’s involvement can touch everything from seeds to software so that its farmer partners can do what they do best: grow and ship top-quality produce. While this vertical integration gives Oppy a strategic advantage in the marketplace, it also means the company can face working capital challenges. Having a banking partner that understands issues inherent to this industry’s long trade cycles has been critical to Oppy’s growth.
“Our HSBC credit line enables our business to happen,” says Anderson. “Through it, we can support our grower partners and share our success as we bring fresh produce from over two dozen countries into the North American market and beyond.”
One example of this vertically integrated supply chain’s power is Oppy’s joint venture with a strawberry producer – a relationship that came to fruition in 2016 with HSBC’s help. “Berries are among the highest-earning items for retailers, so we seized the opportunity to become vertically integrated with a quality grower to help us build volume in this important category,” says Anderson. “We then teamed up with Ocean Spray to brand our berries. Had HSBC not been there to support the original joint venture, it would have been difficult for us to develop a berry program of this scale under the popular Ocean Spray label.”
Oppy hasn’t always banked with HSBC. In 2002 it ended a 50-year relationship with another financial institution that Anderson says, “suddenly decided we were high risk.” The unexpected shift threatened Oppy’s ability to support its growers in Chile for the upcoming season. When Oppy looked elsewhere for a banking partner, it found HSBC. “It didn’t take them long to understand our business and gain our trust,” he says.
“I’ll go into a farmer’s home and have dinner with his family to build the trust that is required when you’re dealing with a perishable product and where that one crop might represent a family’s livelihood,” says Anderson. “I see that same emphasis on relationships with HSBC. We built trust with them from the early days. They delivered on what they said they would do and have been supportive as we’ve evolved over time.”
When Anderson joined the company in 1975, Oppy had a single office and $7 million in annual sales. In 2002 when HSBC became the company’s banking partner, Oppy was generating $300 million in annual sales. Today, the firm generates over $1.1 billion annually.
“Support from HSBC ensures our operations run smoothly,” says Anderson. “In the fresh produce industry, it’s the nature of our business to navigate factors beyond our control like dramatic weather events, currency exchange fluctuations and even shifting geopolitical conditions. Our credit line helps us plan and execute our day-to-day business but also provides flexibility when unexpected challenges arise.”
Looking ahead, Anderson says Oppy’s close relationship with HSBC gives the company the flexibility and confidence to move quickly when new opportunities emerge, whether in product categories where Oppy is already active or when the company is adding volume or developing relationships abroad. “This may mean more joint ventures that help us build strategic business, and if so, I’m confident that HSBC will be there for us.”
Note: The views and opinions presented are solely those of the speakers.
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Issued by HSBC Bank Canada ("HSBC")