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Mayra Velazquez de Leon: Preserving the Family Business

August 3, 2017

By Andrea Lopez-Villafaña

Grocery shopping at the supermarket might seem a thing of the past now that fresh produce can be purchased online, but Mayra Velazquez de Leon, president and CEO of Organics Unlimited, believes that while online shopping is convenient, there is still something unique about purchasing produce at the store.

With 17 years as head of an organic banana producing company, Velazquez de Leon has witnessed changes to a market that was once considered a niche.

“We are a family owned business that truly believes in organic, we started with organic and we are still in organic and we are competing with the large (companies), we are competing with Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita,” Velazquez de Leon said. “So that just tells you that if we’re still here it means something. People trust what we do and they trust our product.”

As a fourth generation banana grower, Velazquez de Leon was first introduced into the banana business by her father, with whom she began working with during the summer when she was 13 years old.

De Leon grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, with her family then moved away to Mexico City to study to become an interpreter. Although she had experience working for her dad, she did not see herself working in the banana business.

She also worked for a newspaper and then she worked for the United Nations in Mexico City before traveling to the United States to help her father with his business.

Despite only planning on staying for six months, she worked for her father for 13 years and learned about the sales and distribution side of the business.

Velazquez de Leon, and her then husband, started Organics Unlimited in 2000 and with guidance from her father in relation to the production of the bananas, and their business grew quickly.

She said it was scary because it was her own money but they knew that they would be welcomed back into the industry.

They began their company in a small office space but after three years they had a 25,000 square-foot warehouse in San Diego.

“I had no idea I would end up doing this but it is something I really enjoy,” Velazquez de Leon said.

She said that at the time there was no organic banana in the market that had the quality of the conventional bananas and more people were growing interested in healthier organic options.

“Back then organic bananas were looked at (as) the ugly bananas, so we introduced a different banana,” Velazquez de Leon said. “When it came to organics it was a nicer banana that you could really compare to the conventional banana.”

Now, there is a different mindset when it comes to organic food and organic bananas because a lot of people are interested in eating, farming and selling organic, she said.

Velazquez de Leon said she is not sure how online produce services like Amazon Fresh will affect her company but she does believe that it will not replace going to the grocery store.

“I think we still like the feeling of touching what we buy or going through the supermarket aisle and checking out what else (we) need,” Mayra Velazquez de Leon said.

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