The Oppenheimer Group Business Information, Profile, and History
Coquitlab, British Columbia V3K 7B2
We've built our company on determination, innovation and trust. For n early a century and a half, we've been pioneering new fresh produce v arieties, nurturing direct relationships between the world's leading growers and North American retailers, cultivating sophisticated deliv ery networks and setting standards for food safety and quality. This depth of experience now provides us--and our customers--with a world of advantages.
History of The Oppenheimer Group
Based near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and privately owned, The Oppenheimer Group is composed of three companies. David Oppenheim er & Associates (Canada) and David Oppenheimer & Co. LLC (Uni ted States) combine to make one of North America's largest distributo rs of produce, offering more than 100 varieties of fresh fruits and v egetables from some 25 countries, including an increasing number of i ts own branded items. Offices are located in Vancouver and Calgary in Canada, as well as U.S. cities Seattle, Washington; Los Angeles and Visalia, California; Nogales, Arizona; Houston, Texas; Chicago, Illin ois; Wilmington, Delaware; and Miami and Tampa, Florida. Oppenheimer also maintains a procurement office in Santiago, Chile. The third Opp enheimer company is David Oppenheimer Transport, a ground transportat ion company that operates out of the Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Wilm ington offices. Oppenheimer is well known in its field, responsible o ver the years for the introduction of a number of fruits and vegetabl es to North America, including Granny Smith apples and kiwifruit.
Founders Immigrating to North America in the Mid-1800s
The origins of The Oppenheimer Group date to 1848 when five brothers- -David, Charles, Godfrey, and Isaac Oppenheimer, as well as their bro ther Meyer, who was often neglected by historians--left Bavaria as yo ung men to escape the persecution visited upon German Jews during tha t era. They originally settled in New Orleans, Louisiana before reloc ating to Sacramento, California at the height of the gold rush. The s ons of a wine dealer, they elected to pursue careers as merchants cat ering to the miners rather than prospecting for gold themselves. Meye r launched a successful business in Sacramento, while David and his w ife ran a hotel in the nearby town of Columbia. After the California gold fields were played out, many of the miners headed north to take part in the Fraser River Gold Rush in British Columbia, and in 1858 t he Oppenheimers followed to supply their needs. Charles arrived first and established a trading business known as Charles Oppenheimer and Co. The family partnership expanded when David and Isaac Oppenheimer opened a general store in Yale, British Columbia, to outfit prospecto rs, and soon expanded to other mining camps, such as Fort Hope and Ly tton. In 1858 the brothers formed Oppenheimer Bros. and Company, a fu ll-service grocery company to supply their stores. As the gold rush m oved north, the brothers opened a store in Barkerville in 1862.
Charles withdrew from the family business to take on a contract to bu ild a road through the region, leading to the company changing its na me to Oppenheimer & Co. Charles would later move back to San Fran cisco, where he died in 1890. Godfrey died in 1880, leaving David and Isaac Oppenheimer as partners. As the northern gold rush waned in th e mid-1880s, the brothers elected to stay in British Columbia, as did a large number of miners. David and Isaac settled in Vancouver in 18 85, where they established the first wholesale provisionary warehouse in the city's first brick building, and also became civic leaders an d played a key role in the incorporation of Vancouver in 1886. They h ad already become large landowners in the city through their Vancouve r Improvement Company and had been actively promoting Vancouver as th e ideal location for the Pacific terminus of the Canadian Pacific Rai lway (CPR), Canada's first transcontinental railroad. Not only would they become wealthy from their real estate holdings when Vancouver in deed became the CPR's West Coast anchor, they prospered by supplying provisions to the road builders. David Oppenheimer was elected as Van couver's mayor from 1888 to 1891 and was responsible for so many impr ovements in the city that he would be regarded by many as a founding father of Vancouver. He would die in 1897 at the age of 63. Isaac lef t Vancouver four years later, eventually settled in Spokane, Washingt on, and died in 1922 at the age of 88.
The Oppenheimer brothers left a thriving grocery wholesale business t o their descendants and also established a tradition of introducing n ew fruits and vegetables. In 1884 the family firm forged an alliance with the Japan Fruit Growers Cooperative and began importing mandarin oranges, each piece of fruit wrapped in tissue and packed in a woode n box. The oranges were originally sent to Canada as gifts for relati ves who came to work on the CPR, but they would become part of the Ch ristmas tradition in western Canada, as children looked forward to th e Christmas orange in their stocking, and the boxes they came in woul d be transformed into treasure chests, doll houses, and sleds.
Produce Gaining in Importance: 1920s and 1930s
Produce eventually became such a major part of Oppenheimer's grocery distribution business, enjoying strong growth in the 1920s and 1930s, that a separate department was created and served as a sales agent f or growers. With the advent of World War II, the longstanding ties wi th Japanese exporters had to be severed and mandarin oranges went mis sing from Christmas for a few seasons. When trade resumed after the w ar, Oppenheimer quickly reestablished its relationship with the Japan ese growers. In the days before refrigerated trains, Oppenheimer comm issioned special trains, the cars painted orange, to take the oranges straight from the ships to the eastern Canadian cities, where the re sidents knew the holiday oranges had arrived by the sight of the brig htly colored railcars.
The 1950s was a decade of strong growth for Oppenheimer's produce bus iness. In addition to sourcing produce, the company became increasing ly involved in produce merchandising and promotional campaigns, which included in-store materials. A major reason for this expanded operat ion was the arrival during the 1950s of southern hemisphere Chilean a nd New Zealand produce, much of which was new to North American consu mers, who would have to be educated and urged to give the new items a try. Chile began exporting a variety of products to North America du ring this period, including onions, honeydew, melons, and garlic. Chi le is uniquely positioned to supply North America because of its unus ual north-south geography. The country is composed of six distinct cl imatic regions, stretching some 1,200 kilometers. As a result, the ha rvest of fruits and vegetables is staggered, allowing Chile to supply produce to markets over an extended period of time. Moreover, becaus e Chile is located in the southern hemisphere it became an ideal sour ce of produce during the winter months for North America. Each year, Chile increased its volume of produce as well as its variety. The ava ilability of refrigerated shipping space was also a key factor, as th e amount of Chilean produce shipped to North America increased dramat ically in the early 1960s.
Oppenheimer also established ties to New Zealand in the 1950s and, by chance more than design, was responsible for the introduction of the Granny Smith apple to North America. A shipment of 5,000 cases of th e tart, green apples bound for Hawaii was diverted to Vancouver becau se of a longshoreman strike in Hawaii. Oppenheimer's salesmen pitched the new variety to retailers with the slogan, "not every green apple will give you a bellyache." In just one week they sold the errant sh ipment, and then in the following season the company sold the apple t hroughout Canada as well as the West Coast of the United States. Soon the Granny Smith apple was introduced to the rest of North America. Oppenheimer's success also forged a bond with New Zealand growers tha t led to the introduction of more than a dozen other apples to North America, including Royal Gala, Braeburn, Fuji, Pacific Rose, and Jazz . Taylor's Gold pears from New Zealand also would be marketed by Oppe nheimer.
By the early 1960s the produce industry was undergoing a sea change, moving from a regional business to a global one. Not only was there j et transportation capable of supplying North America with produce fro m around the world, but the grocery industry was undergoing consolida tion, and retail chains were interested in differentiating themselves by offering greater variety as well as extending the seasonality of produce. In 1962 the Oppenheimer produce operation had grown large en ough that the family company was reorganized, divided into two separa te companies: the grocery brokerage business of David Oppenheimer Bro s. & Company, Ltd., and David Oppenheimer and Associates to conce ntrate on produce. The latter would be led by David Oppenheimer III, a grandson of one of the original Oppenheimer brothers. The newly ind ependent company soon had it first marketing success, again courtesy of New Zealand growers, when in 1963 it introduced western Canadians to kiwifruit and also sold it to markets in the northwestern United S tates and California. At the time it was known as "Chinese gooseberry ," a name not easily marketed. As a result, the fruit would be named after New Zealand's national bird, the kiwi, thus becoming kiwifruit, which gradually gained in popularity.
The next major step in the expansion of Oppenheimer came in 1985 when the company formed a U.S. subsidiary, David Oppenheimer & Co. L. L.C., and opened its first office in Seattle, Washington. Over the ne xt seven years six more U.S. offices were opened in strategic locatio ns as Oppenheimer expanded to serve new markets.
With that expansion came the need for a consolidated approach to grou nd transportation to manage the movement of produce across the contin ent. In 1993 David Oppenheimer Transport was formed and established o perations in Oppenheimer's Wilmington, Delaware, office. At this poin t, the David Oppenheimer Group was formed to serve as a holding compa ny for David Oppenheimer & Associates, David Oppenheimer & Co . LLC, and David Oppenheimer Transport. Initially limited to serving the East Coast of the United States, David Oppenheimer Transport woul d establish operations in Los Angeles, California in 2002, to serve t he markets of the U.S. West Coast. Two years later, another branch wa s established in Vancouver to service the western part of Canada.
New CEO in the Early 1990s
In 1993, Oppenheimer's current president, chief executive officer, an d chairman, John Anderson, was named CEO. He literally worked his way up through the organization. When he was a teenager and helping his father set up equipment for a figure skating and concert event, his h ard work caught the eyes of an Oppenheimer executive who offered him a job. Anderson was uninterested, intent on following his dream of be coming an airline pilot. He was only looking for part-time employment as he devoted as much time as possible to flight training. A strike at the Safeway supermarket chain prompted the young man's contact at Oppenheimer to call him up to offer him work unloading a railcar, whi ch turned out to be packed with broccoli, cauliflower, and ice. In ju st two hours Anderson managed to shovel out the car. His hard work on ce again prompted a job offer that he once more refused.
At the age of 18 Anderson began his own one-aircraft airline, but whe n that did not succeed he went to work for Oppenheimer with the under standing that he would eventually leave to be an airline pilot. While he pursued his lifelong dream, Anderson worked his way up from the l oading docks at Oppenheimer to a sales job and then management. Then, just when he was on the verge of taking a job with an airline, Oppen heimer made him a counteroffer, eager to keep Anderson and promising him that there was no limit to how high he could rise in the organiza tion. It was Anderson who opened and managed the Seattle office in 19 85. He became chief operating officer in 1988 and by 1992 opened and managed another six U.S. offices. In 1980, Anderson realized his orig inal dream and founded a successful charter airline service in Vancou ver, Anderson Air. The company would service Oppenheimer employees al ong with many other companies in British Columbia and beyond.
When Anderson became CEO in 1993, he took over a company that was ric h in history as well as baggage. According to BC Business, "An derson concluded that almost a century-and-a-half's worth of corporat e culture was going to have to be overhauled in order to drag the com pany into the 21st century." He explained, "I could see it was gettin g to be a global business and we had to become a full-service interna tional marketer so that we would be able to control our own destiny, as opposed to somebody else controlling it for us. That meant getting into transportation, quality control, marketing, promotions, warehou sing, all the things we weren't in before." To sell his vision to the rank and file, Anderson visited each of the offices and met with eve ry manager. According to BC Business, he allowed "them to voic e their concerns, but [demanded] hard work and loyalty once the cours e had been set."
To reach the next level, Oppenheimer upgraded its technology infrastr ucture. In 1996, the company launched a custom-designed management in formation system that was the envy of the produce industry. Oppenheim er's advanced technology provided a competitive edge in an increasing ly global market, allowing it to realize economies of scale by integr ating its worldwide supply base and bring all of its marketing resour ces to bear to provide value-added services to its retail and foodser vice customers. The system became so advanced that the company could take a box of its fruit from a store and trace it back to the section of the farm on which it was grown.
Later in the 1990s Anderson changed the way the company approached it s business, adopting the concept of category management. Deal manager s now became category managers, responsible for a single product cate gory. In this way the unique needs of a particular product could be a ddressed, including quality control, the proper way to transport it, and market it. By 2000 Oppenheimer had established several main produ ct categories with year-round availability, including pipfruit (apple s and pears), stone fruit, citrus, grapes, kiwifruit, mangoes, pineap ple, and greenhouse-grown vegetables. Products with more limited avai lability continued to be coordinated by deal.
In 2002 the David Oppenheimer Group shortened its name to The Oppenhe imer Group and introduced a new corporate logo, the first change in t he logo in about 20 years. A year later the logo would begin to enjoy greater visibility as the company introduced the first Oppenheimer-b randed packaging. Further branding work took place in 2004 with the u nveiling of a brand promise, "expect the world from us," which replac ed the phrase, "International Marketers of Fresh Produce," at the foo t of the new logo. With a refined image and solid long-term relations hips with both growers around the world and North American foodservic e customers and retailers, supported by a robust infrastructure, Oppe nheimer appeared poised to enjoy even greater prosperity in the futur e.
Principal Subsidiaries: David Oppenheimer & Associates (Ca nada); David Oppenheimer & Co. LLC (United States); David Oppenhe imer Transport.
Principal Competitors: Dominion Citrus Ltd.; Fresh Del Monte P roduce Inc.; Services Group of America.
- Key Dates:
- 1848: The Oppenheimer brothers immigrate to North America.
- 1858: Oppenheimer Bros. and Company is founded in British Colu mbia.
- 1885: Business operations move to Vancouver.
- 1962: The produce business is split off as David Oppenheimer a nd Associates.
- 1985: The first U.S. subsidiary opens in Seattle.
- 1993: The David Oppenheimer Group is formed as a holding compa ny for three related subsidiaries.
- 2002: The name is shortened to The Oppenheimer Group.
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