In the beginning, we had one small packing shed in downtown Livingston – a building we still own today. It had one sorting line, no loading dock and no storage space. Our sweet potatoes and yams were cleaned with brushes and packed in small crates. At our busiest, we could only load a few trucks a day.
In 1979, we built our first warehouse. We built a second in 1984.
The big expansion came in 1988, just 11 years after Manuel E. Vieira bought the company. To keep up with increased sales and sales trends, he built a brand-new 65,000-square-foot packing shed, which we continue to expand and update to this day.
A.V. Thomas Produce is now the largest sweet potato and yam producer in California, with 12 separate buildings, seven different packing lines, over 200,000 square feet of warehouse space, five loading docks and up to 700 employees depending on the season. We have an on-site scale and can load and ship 365 days a year 24 hours a day. On a busy day we can load over 90 truck loads of sweet potatoes.
But it’s not just about getting bigger. It’s also about doing things better.
A.V. Thomas Produce was the first company to hand-sort sweet potatoes in the field as they were being harvested, an innovation that makes each of our packing lines faster and more efficient. We were the first to make sweet potatoes available year-round for our customers.
When the industry began using tubs of water to clean the potatoes, we were among the first to install larger, deeper tubs. Rather than dump the potatoes into the tubs from above – letting them bang and bruise against each other, we lower our harvest bins into the water, so each sweet potato is protected and buffered as it floats to the surface.
This spirit of innovation can be seen today in our individually wrapped microwavable sweet potatoes and ready-to-serve tray packs of baby yams – new products bringing sweet potatoes to new customers and new markets.