Now marking its 70th year, Norwalk-based Capital City Fruit defines its mission as putting “exceptionally fresh” fruits and vegetables on the tables of American families. That commitment has guided the company since its 1949 founding and its move to Norwalk in 1982, one of several companies helping build the community into a center of food production in Central Iowa.
“We’re proud to be in Norwalk and we see the community becoming a food production hub, thanks to our central location, our outstanding workforce and our growing community,” says Brendan Comito, chief operating officer.
The company’s legacy began in 1949 in Des Moines when Joseph T. Comito and Ross and Bernard Grandanette opened a food stand on downtown site that gave way to I-235, prompting a move to SE14th Street. By the 1980’s under the leadership of Joseph M. Comito, the company foresaw growth, purchased land in Norwalk and relocated with 11 employees to a facility on North Avenue.
Brendan Comito, and his brothers Christian Comito, who is President and CEO, and Kieran Comito, who is vice president for purchasing, bought the company in 2008. “By 2010 we knew we needed more space to meet growth so we acquired 18 acres that had been the Holland Family farmland,” Comito said. The company moved to 1850 Colonial Parkway in October 2012.
Today, the 83,000-square foot office, production and warehouse facility has the equivalent of almost two acres under one roof where 150 employees source, package and distribute thousands of tons of fresh fruit and vegetables annually. Produce is sourced from across North America, but Capital City does offer a robust locally-grown program with producers from Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin, Comito says.
“Because we focus on freshness we can source and customize products to exactly what the customer needs, such as tomatoes of consistent size and quality that restaurants can slice quickly to fit perfectly atop a cheeseburger,” he adds. “We have a very perishable product. We move fast and we prioritize food safety with freshness and quality. We don’t cut corners in food safety or occupational safety for our customers and our teams.”
Team members sort and repack the food with a turn-around time of mere hours to a few days, depending on the item, assuring the exceptional freshness to be delivered to institutional users such as hospitals and schools, retail buyers like HyVee, and Fareway and hotel and restaurant chains.
The company is about to launch a new product nationwide – fresh fruit baskets - after extensive research and testing. “We’re excited to bring this product to Norwalk to demonstrate the quality we deliver with speed and freshness,” Comito says.
Capital City Fruit has experience in the field through its subsidiary Four Seasons Fundraising which supports annual food sales campaigns by school districts, bands and choirs, scout troops and churches, usually in the Fall, leading to three very-busy weeks for production and distribution between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year, he says.
The Comitos have been active in industry organizations and are proponents of initiatives to encourage consumers to eat more servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Consumption is currently averaging two and a half servings a day, well below the recommended guidelines of five to 10 servings a day.
“Optimum health would be achieved, especially for children, if people ate more fruit and vegetables. The benefits are well researched and we also know in the industry that there are positive impacts for schools in student behavior and performance when students are served more fruits and vegetables each day,” Comito says. “It’s a critical issue and we want to be in the forefront of encouraging healthy eating, especially of fruits and vegetables.”