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August 11, 2021 DesignConstructionFood ProcessingFood Distribution & Cold Storage

We’re Talking Produce Facilities with Podcast Host Patrick Kelly


Let’s say your U.S. produce company needs to expand its production capacity, but you’re not sure what to do next. If you think renovation of an existing facility might be the best strategy, what needs to be updated? Refrigeration systems, packaging equipment? Is your construction firm experienced in working in an operational facility? Or is building a greenfield facility an option? How much space do you need? Are trust and relationships important with your design and construction team? These are some of the topics I discussed with Patrick Kelly, host of The Produce Industry Podcast, this summer during the show’s 100th episode. He’s passionate, knowledgeable and a bold advocate for the produce industry. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

These are my favorite takeaways:

Patrick: Let’s give your listeners the 30,000-foot overview about A M King and what you’re doing for the produce and supply chain industry.

Dan: Certainly. A M King started in 2004. We’re a fully integrated Design-Build firm.  That means we offer property consulting, in-house design, construction and facility management services.  We get involved from the very beginning when a potential client is just starting to think about challenges they have, such as growing pains. They may be trying to figure out where the company is going and how their facilities are going to keep up. Many times, we help them find land and then roll into the design process. Eventually we build the facility. And then a lot of times we’ll never really leave. We’ll have our facility maintenance group come in to maintain the facility.

Henry Avocado Cold Distribution Facility, Charlotte, NC.

Strategic Planning

Patrick: Your company clearly does more than just build the facility. You’re actually strategically planning with these companies?

Dan: Absolutely. All the hard work is done up front, during the planning and design phases. I have a construction background and have been building for 20-plus years. While I have a real passion for that, I’m the first to admit that while construction of a produce facility can take six to 12 months, that’s actually not where all of the real hard work is done. It’s quite possible that we’ve been talking with that client for two, three or four years before we even put a shovel in the ground.

Relationships & Trust

Patrick: At our facility in California, I remember we had multiple contractors with different estimates and various scopes of work. That’s the worst, right?

Dan:  A M King is different, what we do is different, the way we’re set up is different in that our team becomes an extension of our client. I’ve heard you mention on some of your podcasts that the produce world is very relationship driven.

The food clients that we’ve worked with want to build relationships and trust.  Multi-million-dollar projects require trust.

Patrick:  I just had this conversation with our owner and our sales manager over the weekend. The way I look at it is that you start this relationship, and it doesn’t bear fruit for four years, just like a citrus tree. When you first plant a citrus tree, it takes three years, possibly four, to start bearing fruit. Some people have issues with that, don’t they Dan?

Dan: I love your analogy of planting the tree because that’s exactly what we do. A lot of companies don’t know what they need three years or four years from now. They’re thinking about tomorrow, they’re thinking about next week and our job is to help them think about what they need long term and how to get there. Do they need a new greenfield facility that’s three or four times the size of what they’ve got? Or can they add on to their existing facility?

Mission Produce Avocado Ripening and Processing Facility, Laredo, TX.

The Mystery of Produce Facilities

Patrick: People just see the outside of the building and they probably think whatever happens in there is revolutionary. That’s why it’s so fascinating.

Dan: There are newer, better technologies in the food and cold storage industry today that help maintain product integrity—-from refrigeration systems to how a cold storage facility or produce facility is designed and built. Produce enters a facility and eventually that produce exits the facility. What happens in between? That is where efficiency is gained or lost.

Patrick: Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show them.” I know you’ve built some cool facilities for some of our partners out there. How can you help them beyond building that outside shell?  Do you help them find the packing machinery and the packaging or processing equipment?

Dan: We want to know what clients need to happen inside. And to understand that we need to spend time with them in their existing facility, see what works, what doesn’t work, and what’s outdated. Then we can put together a plan, whether it’s getting involved with the equipment or the size of the building. We discuss square footage, racking, pallet positions and if there is available space to expand.  Renovating can be a more difficult prospect than a client saying they own 100 acres and want to build a new 150,000-sf facility.

GAB Produce Distribution Facility, Laredo, TX. Scheduled for completion October 2021.

Efficient Operations

Patrick: I bet.  I’ve had renovations performed at my home, and they have to block off areas with the clear plastic sheeting because they need to make it almost like a cleanroom.  Whether there’s produce in your facility or not, that’s what you have to do. When we expanded the facility in California, I think the owners knew they needed to update and expand but weren’t really sure what that meant. They had to consider if it was better to put $50,000 into a renovation project versus building a whole new facility for millions of dollars. These are cost metrics that obviously everybody looks at.

Dan: That’s why we need to figure out how to be more efficient.

Now more than ever, potential clients are asking us how they can make their facility as efficient as possible.

Another challenge related to efficiency is labor. The labor shortage isn’t getting any better. Owners often ask how they continue operations with fewer people, but have the same or more input and output?

Patrick: A lot of our produce people are immigrants and mavericks. These are people who have built these organizations literally from seeds. What’s so cool about this is that it does go back to relationships.

Dan:  If you look at the produce network across United States, it’s huge. But it doesn’t feel that way. Everybody seems to know everybody. Perhaps we manage a project for Company A. It could be a small local family run company and before we know it another small local company is calling us. Then larger companies reach out because they heard about our success. The referrals are amazing.

Wrap it Up

Patrick: Dan, it’s been great to have you on the show today. It’s been fantastic talking about A M King, and the facilities that your team is designing and building for the fresh produce industry.

Dan: Patrick, I appreciate you having me today. This my first podcast ever, as I mentioned offline. This has been so much fun. I could keep talking to you for hours.

Patrick: So, listen, everyone, if you’re thinking about building a new food facility or renovating an existing facility, reach out to the company that thinks like Steve Jobs. Let them strategically create something that you may never have even imagined, a produce facility that will be spectacular for generations to come.

Patrick Kelly

Patrick Kelly is a successful entrepreneur,
author, speaker and strategist in the
produce/supply chain industry. For more
than 15 years he has been committed to
growing supply chains for produce partners
around the world. He is host of  The Produce
Industry Podcast in Tampa, FL.

Listen to the 100th episode of The Produce Industry Podcast featuring A M
King Vice President Dan Crist here.

Dan Crist
Dan Crist
Dan Crist is A M King Vice President. With more than 20 years of experience on projects in 30 states, he excels in working in the sectors of food processing, distribution, cold storage and Class A office space.
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