John Latella, 38

John LatellaJohn Latella is partner, COO and General Counsel of Garden Fresh Gourmet, market leader in the fresh salsa category and one of the country's most successful brands in the grocery store deli. Garden Fresh has garnered more than 400 major national and international awards for its incredible products, and is the single largest producer of fresh salsa in North America. With total revenue around $100,000,000, and supporting over 425 employees and their families, Garden Fresh's line of salsas, hummus, dips and tortilla chips is augmented by a robust private label business. But Garden Fresh Gourmet is not just a collection of products, it's a portfolio of brands, with distribution throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Puerto Rico and on the Korean Peninsula. In terms of national market share for deli items, GF currently ranks #1 in salsa, #4 in hummus, #7 in dips and our top-ten Garden Fresh tortilla chips are the number-one branded chips in the deli.  

That said, John's path to relevance in the realm of package foods was a circuitous one. Prior to joining Garden Fresh Gourmet, John was a senior trial attorney and chief of the Senior Crimes Unit for the Macomb County Prosecutors Office. In that capacity, John was responsible for prosecuting all crimes committed against senior citizens in Macomb County, Michigan. The majority of his time was spent prosecuting white-collar crime and fraud. As the chief of the SCU, John helped pioneer the first senior citizen-specific unit in the State of Michigan, which later became known as S.C.A.M.S. (Stop Crime Against Macomb Seniors). A pioneer in bringing to light crimes against this vulnerable population, John conducted over 150 seminars and presentations on prevention and awareness of such crimes.
 
So how do you go from prosecutor to purveyor of gourmet fare? John's father, Tony, was a founding partner and beloved mentor of a humble yet burgeoning company just outside Detroit that made, of all things, fresh salsa. He always dreamt that his children would follow in his footsteps, so to speak. When Tony contracted a serious illness, he and founders Jack and Annette Aronson tapped John to help in day-to-day operations. It was an offer he couldn't refuse. Tragically, Tony lost his battle with leukemia, and his son John was catapulted into his role in an epic way. Call it trial by fire. Tony always said, "Do the right thing first." It's one of Garden Fresh's core values, and one that John adheres to passionately.
 
Today, John's responsibilities include day-to-day management of the entire organization, as well as cash management, including both short-term and long-term financial planning. As General Counsel, John reviews and negotiates all contracts for capital expenditures and real estate acquisitions. Since Garden Fresh is a closely-held and family-owned company, John inevitably spends a good deal of time in the role of referee and mediator. But that is as it should be. No matter how prosperous we are, ultimately family is the only true wealth.
 
Aside from his day to day responsibilities at Garden Fresh Gourmet, and juggling a very hectic personal life that includes his wife Michella, son Gabriel (9), and daughter, Gianna (4), John still finds time to volunteer with the Salvation Army.  Currently, John serves as an Advisory Board Member with The Salvation Army Metropolitan Detroit Advisory Board.  John also serves as Vice-Chair of  The Salvation Army Metropolitan Detroit Bed & Bread Committee alongside Detroit radio legend Mr. Dick Purtan who serves as Chair of the committee and who is the man responsible for starting the Bed & Bread Radiothon 25 years ago.  As Vice-Chair John has been instrumental in implementing new fundraising efforts such as the annual "Shield on the Field" celebrity softball tournament and the popular "Comedy for a Cause", both of which raise awareness and funds that are vital to the support of the annual Bed & Bread program.

 

The information presented here was accurate as of January 2012.