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Generation Next: Produce passion drives Carlos Bon Jr.

It was the 2004 fall semester at the Monterrey Institute of Technology in Monterrey, Mexico, Carlos Bon Jr.’s last semester before graduation.

“The mid-term exam came during the PMA convention. I showed the teacher the PMA website and said I had to make up the exam later,” said Bon Jr.

“She said, ‘No, school must be the most important thing in your life and I’ll fail you for the whole year if you miss the exam.’ I said that I understood, and I had a great PMA.”2014-5-Carlos-Bon 1Carlos Bon Jr.

Bon Jr. was suddenly working full-time on a produce career that essentially began as a 15-year-old in 1997.

Carlos Bon Sr. raised his children to be involved in the field. “He was strict that no one who was underage would work in the fields, except for his sons,” said Bon Jr. “I was pruning when I was 12 years old.”

Later, Bon Jr. along with brothers Daniel and David packed grapes for a buck a box. “For us at the time, that was a lot of money,” he said. “We ate with the workers and were treated exactly the same as the workers. Every season I was excited to buy and sell grapes.”

Bon Jr. is now 36 years old and the sales manager of Divine Flavor LLC. With roots deep in productive Mexican soil, the recently expanded corporate headquarters is in Nogales, AZ.

“I bought my first load of grapes 21 years ago,” said Bon Jr. His first purchase was in Caborca — Cardinal Red seeded grapes, packed in a Styrofoam container. The per-box price at the time was 50 pesos. “Now the styrofoam box without the grapes cost 38 pesos,” he said.

Those early produce experiences were at Interfruver, a produce company owned by his father. “My family owned a produce distribution business in Mexico at the time,” said Bon Jr. “So, I had this gift of being raised by a produce sales guy. That was very important to my development. I have seen what it takes to grow and harvest a bunch of grapes, and I can communicate that clearly with our retail partners.”

Interfruver was an importer of Washington apples, stone fruit from Chile and California, and handled grapes grown in California, Mexico and Chile. The company had outlets on the central market of Mexico City and other outlets in Guadalajara and Hermosillo.

Bon Sr. and Alan Aguirre Sr. were brothers-in-law. In Hermosillo, Sonora, the pair became partners with their father-in-law, Enrique Camou, in 1989, launching Viñedos Alta (High Vineyard), which soon became Grupo Alta. Although the firm started by producing vegetables, within a couple of years it was on the road toward becoming a major table grape grower. Today, the firm is also a substantial organic vegetable grower.Carlos-Bon-SrCarlos Bon Sr. was integral to the creation of Divine Flavor.

During that time, Interfruver continued as an independent interest for Bon Sr.

In Interfruver’s early days the company “loaned” Bon Jr. to Grupo Alta to handle the firm’s sales outside of the United States and Canada.

In 2003, while still a student at Monterrey Tech, Bon Jr.’s global sales work had him in England. At four o’clock one morning, his phone rang. Bon Sr. was in a bad accident and he was to come home immediately.

Bon Sr., a man who worked very hard to help others and was liked by all, had been murdered in Mexico. A private investigator concluded that jealous competitors of Interfruver had committed the crime, but there were never arrests.

“I came back and tried to work and study,” said Bon Jr. The academic side, of course, lasted until the PMA convention became a higher priority in 2004.

In 2007, Aguirre Sr. asked Bon Jr. to work at Grupo Alta developing the Mexican market.

Family matters
A key player in Grupo Alta and Bon Jr.’s, life is his cousin, Pedro Batiz.

Batiz has worked with Aguirre Sr., since Grupo Alta’s creation. “We formed Divine Flavor 14 years ago as a natural step toward the vertical integration of Grupo Alta,” Batiz said, adding that Bon Sr. was his best friend.

Batiz and Aguirre Sr. took on the added responsibility of looking after Bon Sr.’s widow, Guadalupe Camou, and her three sons.

Growing up in Hermosillo, at age 12 Bon Jr. met an 11-year-old girl, Liliana Olea. “We were friends for 15 years,” said Bon Jr. In 2007 they figured out that they were much more than just friends. They were married in 2008.

Liliana Bon-Olea is a health coach, who has 15,000 Instagram followers. Her celebrity name is “lilibonhealthcoach.” She has a bachelor’s degree in communications, with a minor in health, so her career stayed very much on-track. “She keeps reading and studying. She’s very good at what she does,” said Bon Jr. Their sons, Carlos III, Roberto and Andres are 8-, six- and four-years old.Pedro-Peter-Clarisa-Alan-Jr-CarlosFamily owners and sales staff in Divine Flavor’s San Diego office in Nov. 2016. Pedro Batiz Sr., Pedro (Peter) Batiz Jr., Clarisa Batiz, Alan Aguirre Jr., and Carlos Bon Jr.

After Bon Jr. married, Aguirre, Sr. asked him to start Divine Flavor-Mexico. In 2011, Pedro Batiz and Aguirre Sr. invited him to work for Divine Flavor-USA.

“I told them I would have a one-year trial from the San Diego office. Now, it’s safe to say that I won’t leave Divine Flavor, or San Diego,” said Bon Jr. “I love Divine Flavor because — the way I see it — it’s the same as Grupo Alta. I see it as one company. That’s the company I grew up in and it’s an up-and-coming company that I am proud to represent. I truly am proud.

“I am proud of how we treat our workers. I’m proud of the flavor of our products and I’m proud that we put together a fantastic team on both sides of the border,” he added. “Now we’re even in the Southern Hemisphere with grape deals in Chile and Peru. That makes it even more fun.”

The kids are alright
Bon is also excited about the oncoming, new young Divine Flavor management team.

“On our team the veteran is a young dude named Dennis Hay, who works in sales from the San Diego office,” he said. “We’re all a bunch of kids. But this bunch of kids has been taught by the older generation on what we need to do.

“The other thing that excites me is our growth in organic vegetables, with my brother, David,” he added.

David Bon heads a new, sophisticated, Divine Flavor organic vegetable wing, Viva Organica. “Viva Organica is still a baby, but I’m excited to see what it looks like when it reaches adulthood,” said Bon Jr.

“Last, but not least, I’m very excited about the re-birth of Divine Flavor, with our new logo, and a very well-thought-out marketing plan, put together with my cousin, Alan (Aguirre Jr.) to get closer to the consumer.”

Within Divine Flavor’s aggressive plans is the staggering expansion of 3,000 existing acres of grapes, with 53 percent more acres being planted this year in Jalisco, Baja Norte and Hermosillo.

Under his wife’s heath coaching, Bon Jr. said, “I prepped for this intense season. To go through something like this, you need to be right. You start with your mind, followed by exercise, eating healthy food, praying and my own kind of meditation. You are supposed to make your mind blank, but I never have a blank mind. So I spend 10 minutes a day giving thanks.”

Bon has learned to accept that the produce business is imperfect. Sometimes, like this spring, grape production comes up short. “It’s better for Divine Flavor customers and my well-being to be honest, and say ‘my red grapes are small. I can pack, but it’s not what you normally get from me,’” he said. “We have the best customers in the world. We are truly partners. We communicate on what is going on and plan together on how to go to market. Every season has its challenges. The challenges are easier to jump when you’ve got a great team.”

For this season, Divine Flavor’s sales team was reorganized. “All the sales reps and their assistants are doing a fantastic job. That takes a lot of pressure off me. We have always been a team, but this is the first time we spell ‘team’ in caps,” Bon said. “We are all rowing at the same pace and in the same direction.

“I am leading my dream life. The only thing I’m missing is a Dodgers World Series championship.”