John J. Latella is a former partner, CEO 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. During John’s tenure, Garden Fresh garnered more than 450 major national and international awards for its incredible products, and is the single largest producer of fresh salsa in North America. With total revenue exceeding $100,000,000, and supporting over 430 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 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 as far as Europe and Japan. In terms of national market share for deli items, GF currently ranks #1 in salsa, #3 in hummus, #7 in dips and their top-ten Garden Fresh tortilla chips are the number-one branded chips in the deli. As a testament to Garden Fresh’s national and international appeal, The Campbell Soup Company acquired Garden Fresh in an all cash deal on June 29, 2015.
That said, John’s path to relevance in the realm of packaged 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, as well as over 30 jury trials where he boasted a 90% conviction rate.
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.
As the CEO and General Counsel, John’s responsibilities included the day-to-day management of the entire Garden Fresh Gourmet organization, as well as the financial management, including both short-term and long-term financial planning. As General Counsel, John reviewed and negotiated all contracts for capital expenditures, growth initiatives and real estate acquisitions. He even conducted the negotiations for Garden Fresh Gourmet in their acquisition by The Campbell Soup Company, as well as ran the due diligence process thus negating the need for a broker. Since Garden Fresh was a closely held and family owned company, John inevitably spent a good deal of his time in the role of referee and mediator.
John just fulfilled a consulting agreement with The Campbell Soup Co., and has in hand in several new start-ups. He is also a partner in Miller’s Big Red Farms (Apple Orchard) located in Washington, Michigan. On top of his very busy schedule, John juggles a very busy personal life, which includes his beautiful wife Michella, son Gabriel (15), daughter, Gianna (9) and daughter, Tatum (3). Currently, John serves as the Chair of the 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, the founder of the Bed & Bread Radiothon. As Vice- Chair John has been instrumental in implementing new fundraising efforts such as the “Shield on the Field” and “Comedy for a Cause” in order to raise awareness and funds to support the annual Bed & Bread Radiothon. Due to John’s involvement on the local board he was nominated to serve a 3-year term on The Salvation Army National Advisory Board where he serves alongside such distinguished individuals such as Former First Lady Mrs. Laura Bush.