40-under-Forty CLASS OF 2021 — RISING STARS OF THE INDUSTRY – Produce Business

40-under-Forty CLASS OF 2021 — RISING STARS OF THE INDUSTRY – Produce Business


Winners of our annual 40-Under-Forty awards program should be truly honored because they were chosen by their fellow industry mentors. PRODUCE BUSINESS conducted an extensive, widespread search to elicit nominations for top young leaders. The search involved communication with thousands of industry executives along the entire supply chain.
This year’s winners are exemplified by an outstanding array of leadership. They have demonstrated an extremely high degree of giving back to the people who have helped them reach their current positions. Individual candidates were contacted to discuss their key company, industry and community accomplishments, sharing meaningful examples of their roles, as well as their goals and aspirations.
NOTE: If you were not chosen this year, or if you nominated someone who was not selected, please understand that the process is highly selective, and we encourage you to re-submit updated information for next year’s competition. We encourage everyone to continually alert PRODUCE BUSINESS of well deserving candidates as we look forward to honoring 40-Under-Forty leaders again in 2022.
Logistics Specialist and Business Development
C.O.D. Fresh Inc.
Toronto, ON
Hometown: Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico
Hobbies: Yoga, Tennis, Running, Interior design, Health and wellness
Personal/Community: Married
Motto in life: Be the best that you can be.
Arias Ayala has spent her entire professional career in the produce industry. She is known for her ability to deal effectively with both growers and customers and serve in positions that develop and integrate solutions beneficial to all parties. After graduating in 2004 from the University of Guanajuato, Arias Ayala took an entry-level position at Megafrescos (located in her hometown), a company with a 70-year history specializing in the production and distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables to the U.S. She was soon promoted to the head of the shipping department, where she honed skills in negotiation, logistics and relationship building. At her position with Megafrescos, Arias Ayala negotiated rates with brokers, shippers and forwarders, provided logistics management and coordination of national and international trans- port shipments, worked with the Mexican Ministry of Economy and managed inventory control (FIFO).
In 2011, Arias Ayala moved to Toronto, Canada, to join Arc En Ciel Produce Inc. as a sales coordinator. In June 2012, she was offered a compelling position at C.O.D Fresh Inc. as its traffic and logistics specialist. Under the mentorship of Johnny Palermo and Mimmo DiCarlo, Arias Ayala was responsible for preparing and coordinating import and export documentation, serving as liaison with companies to resolve problems, managing and controlling inventory and coordinating distribution schedules and quality control. She also worked to create and implement various business development activities during this time. In 2016, Arias Ayala successfully coordinated a trade mission directly with the Mexican Foreign Trade Office and C.O.D. Fresh Inc. As a result, she was given more responsibility to form strategic business opportunities sourcing product and pricing. In her current role, Arias Ayala focuses on procurement, logistics and quality control. Her focus is to bring the best customer experience throughout all aspects of the export and import process.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Ever since I was in college, I wanted a career that would use my international business knowledge and challenge me daily.
Q: What accomplishments are you most proud of in your career?
Some of things that I am most proud of include representing C.O.D Fresh Inc. at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association trade shows from 2013-2015 and implementing multiple business plans in 2013-2014 for C.O.D. Fresh Inc. to grow its imports from Costa Rica; the results exceeded expectations. Also, in 2016, I coordinated a trade mission to Mexico, which led to many successful commercial relationships with local farmers and producers, and I was asked to be part of another Mexico trade mission in 2018.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
One of my biggest challenges was the transition from Mexican to Canadian business practices, and with the produce business being a relatively male-dominated industry. I had to work even harder to gain people’s respect and trust.
Q: What advice would you give to someone new to the produce industry?
My advice to someone new to the industry is to focus on customer service, do not promise things you cannot deliver and always be open to learning new things.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
The industry is extremely complex; we have so many good people involved in getting your produce from the farm to your local grocery store. Moreover, the COVID pandemic presented so many logistical challenges to our industry, and yet we were still able to deliver the same experience to the consumer.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
With the convenience of online shopping, the entire logistical structure continues to evolve. Moreover, not only do people want food delivered quickly, their demand for quality and fresher foods grows every year.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your outlook?
Life during the COVID pandemic has been difficult, but I am thankful for the health and safety of my friends and family. I am very proud of the contribution C.O.D Fresh Inc. has made during these challenging times. I have learned that we are stronger together, and I feel optimistic about the future.
Sales Director
Vision Import Group
Hackensack, NJ
Hometown: Erie, PA
Hobbies: Cooking, Running, Wine tasting, Shopping, Golf
Personal/Community: Actively involved in Penn State’s THON (a student-run philanthropy committed to raising money for children and families impacted by pediatric cancer).
Motto in life: A vision without action is a daydream.
Aronica is a second generation produce professional and has quickly risen through the ranks of Vision to the position of sales director. In this role, she has become accomplished at understanding how the customer wants information and communicating at the level they require. Aronica is also responsible for synthesizing market forecasts and pricing projections as well as pioneering seasonal programs and promotions. Aronica graduated from Penn State University in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences and minor in agricultural communications. Upon graduation, she began working for Vision Import Group as sales and logistics coordinator, learning the business from the ground up. Aronica was actively involved in   constructing the company’s   food   safety   initiative and obtained her certificate of training in establishing the company’s Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP) — now required under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Aronica is actively involved in many of the industry’s women’s conferences and leadership development.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My father, Joe Aronica, has had a lifelong career in the produce industry and is the driving force behind my decision to pursue my education in agricultural sciences. I was given insight from a young age that women are encouraged to engage within the field of agriculture. Additionally, as Vision Import Group’s motto — “We all have to eat”— addresses, this is an industry that is vital to the societal well-being of individuals around the globe. Having the opportunity to be a part of something that positively impacts lives is very rewarding.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
When you walk into a grocery store or restaurant, typically you don’t assess the process of how the food got there. There are so many components that are vital to the success of circulating our food supply.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Take it all in — engage in every aspect of the industry and become involved in networking opportunities. Do not be afraid to make the significance lies in how you capitalize and learn from the experience. I am relatively new to the industry myself, and every day I learn something new!
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Most growers, whether large or small operations, have a story as to why they chose to dedicate their lives help feed the vast population. Their stories should be told, and their input should be employed in the narrative. This could include promotional material to help educate consumers of the direct and indirect benefits of purchasing a specific item from a health, economic or environmental perspective.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
The issue of climate change and its impact on our agricultural systems. This controversial subject becomes increasingly more apparent every year, as our historical trends and patterns are skewed by adverse weather events impacting market forecasts and seasonal timelines.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
This past year was a rollercoaster of emotions yielding both negativity and positivity. It has helped us become resilient. Our industry as a whole came together with a mutual goal in mind: stay afloat (financially, emotionally, mentally and physically) and keep our food supply flowing. I admire the produce industry now more than ever.
President
American Dream Produce/
American Dream Transportation/
WJA Farms LLC
Roseboro, NC
Hometown: Hammonton, NJ
Hobbies: Golf, Fish, Travel,
Motto in life: If it were easy, everyone would do it.
Augustine began working in his family’s blueberry operation, Winners Circle, in New Jersey as a young boy. In 2014, he moved to North Carolina to expand the operation an additional 1,000 acres with his father. While in North Carolina, Augustine started his own organic tomato operation, WJA Farms, and has continued to innovate and expand in the organic produce business. The farm focuses on high tunnel production of various conventional and organic fruits and vegetables, and has expanded year after year.
In 2020, he partnered with a friend to found American Dream Produce, which encourages U.S.-grown produce in the North Carolina area. The grower/packer/shipper manages growing and sales for his family’s blueberries, his farming operation and a group of local farmers that raise 500 acres of mixed organic and conventional vegetables. In 2021, Augustine founded another company, American Dream Transportation, where he is the sole owner. He also participates in “The Produce Box,” which purchases fruits and vegetables from North Carolina farmers to create curated boxes and distribute them to residents. This past year, the boxes became a part of the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Produce has been in my family for three generations before me. My great-grandfather started managing a co-op and was a broker in Vineland, NJ. My mother and her two brothers still run that company.
My father is a first-generation farmer, and farming was a way of life growing up. It has been in my blood from a young age, and has become my life’s passion. Growing food is the most important thing on the planet.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
That working in the produce industry would become an addiction!
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The cost of entry and financial burden it takes to run a farming operation and produce company. It is not easy to be a young entrepreneur and secure the capital it takes to get started.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Starting not one, but three different companies in a few short years.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
It is going to be tough; it is going to be hard. It takes a lot of sacrifice, but it is one of the most rewarding things you can do in life — to produce something that feeds the world.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Labor. Every year, the labor force gets smaller. The older, more experienced generation is shrinking and the next generation doesn’t show as much interest in agriculture and the work it entails. We, fortunately, have the H2A program, but it is expensive. We import a tremendous amount of labor, and what happens one day if that all comes to a halt?
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
What it takes to get food on their tables. It not only supports the farmer, but it also supports every other business associated with agriculture and small, rural towns throughout the country that depend on agriculture to survive.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The advances in technology and efficiency have been mind-blowing. Production has increased, as we have more equipment coming onboard to help us grade and sort produce and be more efficient in the field and warehouse. We also have a lot more focus on food safety.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
COVID-19 obviously was a game changer for everyone, especially the produce industry. It makes you appreciate how important it is to keep our country fed and hold onto our domestic food supply. We learned the important role diversity plays in surviving, be it the crops you grow or the markets where you sell.
Vice President Global Sourcing
Mission Produce
Oxnard, CA
Hometown: Ventura, CA
Hobbies: Wakeboarding, Basketball, Horseback riding
Motto in life: You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. — Wayne Gretzky
In his current role, Barnard leads Mission Produce in sourcing high-quality avocados from across the globe. He heads a team of six, responsible for sourcing 559 million pounds of avocados, in fiscal year 2019. On a daily basis, Barnard guides his team through the complexities and dynamics of sourcing fruit from multiple sources in more than 25 countries. Barnard also plays a leading role in Mission’s mango program. He establishes multiple sources of supply of all varieties to provide ripe mangos year-round.
After graduating from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, CA, Barnard started with Mission as a field food safety coordinator, traveling around California to certify ranches with Primus Standard Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). He soon moved into a field representative position, acting as a field buyer to purchase fruit from approximately 300 growers in California. A few years later, Barnard was promoted to director of global grower relations where he worked with growers internationally, securing fruit for the U.S. market. After roughly three years, he became vice president of sourcing, North America. Barnard and his team worked with Mexico, California and Peru, securing fruit for North America, Europe and Asia. Shortly after taking that position, he was promoted into his current position of vice president, global sourcing.
Barnard gives regularly to the local Boys and Girls Club and helps organize and promote Mission’s annual charitable golf tournament, generating over $120,000 for charities servicing food insecurity and underprivileged youth.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I started working on my family’s avocado and citrus ranch at a young age. I felt the energy and passion the industry had and also enjoyed the market aspect and the pace of the industry.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The part of our business that was challenging early and continues to be a challenge is that avocados are a global market. To fully understand what is happening, you have to understand every country’s perspective, volume, destination and expectation.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of being part of a team that recognizes opportunity and has no fear. For example, here at Mission, we will enter a country where most companies would be scared to work, and start doing business.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom and take every opportunity that comes your way. Out of sight, out of mind for a lot of young people out there. Get to know as many people as you can because, in this industry, they say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Demand continues to exceed supply, so our industry continues to move outside the U.S. and into more undeveloped countries. This will continue as long as people keep loving avocados.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The past year has been an interesting one with COVID. It has given me a better perspective on how lucky we are to be Americans. We do business in a lot of foreign countries, and they are not as fortunate. On a positive note, COVID has helped the company embrace more technology, which has enhanced global teamwork. I am optimistic that all nine countries [in which we do business] can work hand in hand with technology and be a lot more productive.
Vice President Sales
Primo Produce
Allentown, PA
Hometown: Scranton, PA
Hobbies: Family, Racquetball, Golf, Peloton
Personal/Community: Married, two daughters
Motto in life: Adapt or die.
Bartocci started his first job in 2009, right out of college, at Worldwide Express in Philadelphia as an account executive charged with going out and getting new business. Within a year of taking this first position, he was promoted to field sales manager and tasked with opening an office in Allentown, PA, and growing the market. After getting the Allentown office up and running, Bartocci was approached in 2015 by Primo Produce and offered a position as a sales associate/account executive. In that position, he dedicated himself 10 to 12 hours a day to learning every aspect of the company’s business and was responsible for bringing on new business, helping the logistics department diversify and building relationships with current customers. In 2017, he was promoted to vice president of sales. In his current role, Bartocci is responsible for growing the company’s sales, maintaining business relationships and branching them into different arenas in both produce and logistics. Over the past few years, the company has added a 65,000-square-foot addition, which will help the company handle all aspects of the produce supply chain. The growth is attributed to some of the deals and programs Bartoccci has put into place.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I knew nothing about it when I started — I knew I loved sales and that everyone needed to eat! I like how things change every single day and that produce is a commodity with ever-changing markets.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Learning all of the items. We stock over 1,500 fresh produce items at Primo!
Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would love to see more diversity in our industry, and it’s slowly starting to happen, which is a great thing.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Learn as much as you can about what you’re selling. People want to think they are dealing with an expert. Learn as much as you can from your peers and colleagues, both within and outside of your company.
Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
The first time I had a very large sale to a customer I had been chasing for a long time. The thrill of that transaction got me hooked!
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Food safety and sustainability will continue to come to the forefront. Lot traceability and knowing exactly where your produce is coming from is becoming more of the norm, which is a great thing. The more parameters we can have around how we are sourcing our food, the better.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The industry has really started to adapt to a delivered meal option. Especially with everything going on right now, more people than ever are ordering their food online.
Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I’d like to be looking at the growth Primo has had over my 20-plus years of being there and see what the next chapter holds for our company.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
This past year has completely changed the landscape of the food industry. We had to continually adapt to what was happening and find a way to stay relevant and keep the business going. This helped us diversify into different areas than we had been involved with in the past.
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
Golden Star Citrus Inc.
Woodlake, CA
Hometown: Orosi, CA
Hobbies: Hunting, Fishing, Golf, Boating, Snowboarding
Personal/Community: Two daughters, citrus donation program with the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department
Motto in life: Tough times never last, but tough people do.
Chavez has been part of the produce industry all his life, working on his father’s ranches in fieldwork that included suckering citrus trees, spraying weeds and irrigating. He graduated to the packinghouse at age 13 and worked his teen years pushing brooms and making and stacking boxes of citrus, as well as any other manual operation jobs required in the packinghouse. During his college years, Chavez landed an internship with The Kroger Co. as a quality control inspector in Fresno, CA, during summer breaks. He built relationships with buyers, shippers and farmers during these two summers with Kroger.
Upon graduating from California State University, Fresno, Chavez accepted a full-time position with Kroger as an inspector/buyer and quickly accelerated from an inspector to a full-time buying position.
Eventually, Chavez decided to return home to his family operation to manage sales for Golden Star Citrus. Over the past nine years, he has grown the sales and marketing departments and built relationships with growers to represent their fruit through Golden Star brands. Chavez wears many hats at Golden Star and complements those efforts with additional produce business ventures, including a podcast and a direct-to-consumer mobile produce app, FlavorWave.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I understood earlier in my career how many industries rely upon and affect each other. Even non-produce businesses have a huge effect on our produce supply chain.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Early on, wrapping my head around the way a retailer thinks was a large challenge for me. The specific demands in regard to price points, logistics and merchandising opportunities at the store-front with certain items was a lot of information to process.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I took a lot of pride in landing a job with a national retailer after completing my college degree. It meant a lot to me to be able to step outside of my family’s business and be selected to work with such a prestigious retailer.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Ask questions! There is no such thing as a dumb question, in my opinion. Get as many answers as you can early on and you will always find a path to executing any task in the produce industry.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
In California, it’s water. Without water, we cannot operate. With droughts and limited reprieve from the state, water for California agriculture is definitely at the forefront of hot button issues for me and my industry.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The pandemic has shown me how resilient the produce industry is and has made me take a different look at our supply chain. Getting our citrus directly to consumers, just like Amazon does their goods, will be a challenge I look forward to accomplishing in the years to come.
Vice President, Produce Operations
Consalo Family Farms/The Fresh Wave
Egg Harbor City, NJ /Vineland, NJ
Hometown: Egg Harbor City, NJ
Hobbies: Baking, Yoga, Shopping, Time with family and friends
Personal/Community: Single, New Jersey Blueberry Industry Advisory Council, Vineland Regional Dance Co. Board of Directors and Annual Fashion Show Chair
Motto in life: “If you want to know the secret, can’t buy it, got to make it — You ain’t ever gonna be it by taking someone else’s away — Never take it for granted, you don’t have to understand it — Here’s to whatever puts a smile on your face, whatever makes you happy people.” (Little Big Town)
Consalo is currently vice president of produce operations for Consalo Family Farms. The company grows a full line of produce in New Jersey, and the family has been in the produce industry since 1927. Consalo joined the family business shortly after college graduation and quickly built a reputation as an up-and-coming industry leader. She currently manages several facets of the business, wearing many hats as a leader for the family’s farms as well as production and packing warehouses. In her seven years with the company, Consalo’s first role in the business was in food safety management, a position in which she still oversees all programs. After starting to work full time, she quickly developed a passion for farming and has become thoroughly involved in farm personnel management and compliance. In addition to her involvement on the farming side, Consalo took on expanded roles in marketing and public relations, developing all company advertisements, labels, web content and marketing materials. Her marketing efforts include her assistance with the company’s top seal project for blueberries. Additionally, she oversees the company’s packaging program as well as import and export compliance. Consalo was an ambassador for the North American Blueberry Council and United States Highbush Blueberry Council in 2018 and 2019. She was also a graduate of Produce Marketing Association’s Emerging Leaders Program in 2020.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Produce has been in my family forever, so I grew up around it. My dream was actually to one day have my own bakery, but I was still attracted to the idea of being a part of my family’s legacy — produce. My college days were coming to an end, and my dad approached me with an opportunity to get involved. I said yes, and the rest is history.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
That the support of my family would be this incredibly strong. Family businesses can be hard, but I feel blessed that my family works together so incredibly well.
Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I have started to see more opportunities for young people in the industry, such as leadership programs and symposiums. As these programs start to become prevalent, I think it is important to ensure that they focus on industry networking, building relationships and business acumen skills. Young professionals in these programs can benefit from learning from current industry leaders. Mentoring should be a top priority.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Always be yourself, and stay true to that. This industry presents new challenges every day and showing up as your best self will allow you to navigate them.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
By giving consumers a better understanding of the supply chain and total agricultural landscape, we can promote the consumption of produce.
Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
When I became involved in farming operations, I became truly passionate about my job. On the farm, I have fostered relation-ships I do not think I would be able to find anywhere else.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The past year has been a roller coaster, and when everyone stopped, we (the produce business) didn’t, because we couldn’t. The past year brought some personal changes that affected me, as well. My brother A.J. (with whom I worked side by side within our farming operation) transitioned into a new position in our business. Not only did he assist me with leading our team, but helped me become a good manager myself. Although I know it will be tough, I know the future is bright for both of us as we continue to lead our family company in the right direction.
Retail Sales Supervisor
Baldor Specialty Foods, Inc.
Bronx, NY
Hometown: Bronx, NY
Hobbies: Traveling, Spending time with family, Trying new recipes, Cycling
Personal/Community: Married, two daughters, one stepson, one grandson
Motto in life: Anything worth doing is worth doing right.
Diaz began her career in produce in 1998 at R-Best, a family-owned company that specialized in distributing retail account produce as well as servicing a number of foodservice accounts. Initially, she worked as a receptionist, and then trained as a sales assistant, eventually becoming a salesperson handling inside sales. Diaz was also responsible for building the pricing spreadsheets for the company president. By the end of her time at R-Best, she had mastered produce and product seasonality and built operational skills that still serve her today. One of her primary responsibilities over the years at R-Best was to train all new salespeople.
In 2007, Diaz left R-Best to take a position with Baldor as a sales assistant, handling sales accounts to build relationships with new customers. In this position, Diaz developed an opportunity to work with Whole Foods, handling a variety of issues including food safety, store visits and demos. She has evolved with Whole Foods, expanding from 18 stores to now 51 stores up and down the East Coast. In 2019, Diaz was promoted to retail supervisor at Baldor where she now wears many hats. She supervises a team of sales and assistants working with numerous retail accounts and manages many aspects of the sales desk, merchandising and operations, getting the job done daily and empowering others. She has also won the Employee of the Year award at Baldor.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
As a young working mom with children, I had to work even harder at balancing my two full-time jobs — being a wife and mother and my position in the business. Juggling a career with a demanding home life is not easy. We need to support young mothers as they seek to enter professions in the produce industry. With age, it gets easier as you become more patient and you build your knowledge base.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
When I consider where I started at 18 years old, I am amazed. I am very proud to have worked diligently over the past 21 years to contribute to a very successful retail team. I give thanks to the director of retail for mentoring me these last 12 years. His guidance has helped me in so many ways. I can’t wait to see what the future holds at 39 years old, and I’m still learning.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Retail produce is an equal playing field where education level doesn’t ensure success and, conversely, success can definitely come without it. Produce is about building solid relationships, holding your customers’ hands and following up to make sure things are working well on both ends. Build relationships and remain a genuine partner to your customers. This is the secret to success.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Technology. Technology has improved processing and packaging, and it has improved the shelf life and the safety/quality of food. The use of equipment in the food industry also ensures quality and affordability, but has also replaced a lot of jobs. While technology provides a wider variety of positive changes for the future, it is taking away the art form that has existed for centuries. Where are the old-school produce experts who understood seasonality and quality and could help customers plan for the next season? Technology does not necessarily replace this expertise and experience.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I would like consumers to know what an The industry is fast paced and must be meticulous in delivering orders and calculating every step of getting that product from its original home to the customer. Distributing produce is not easy. I would like customers to know how much of an effort it takes to pick, ship, store and deliver safe, quality produce.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The industry has changed from a mom-and-pop, paper-and-pen structure to a technical industry with formal systems in place. I used to take orders over the phone and write the orders on a paper order form. Now orders are entered in a large database where routes are calculated and stock volumes are cross checked with the next incoming product delivery. I managed these systems by walking the warehouse to see what we had on the floor. While I still find myself doing that at times, we have much more structure and technology in place to support the evolving industry.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
I have grown personally and profession-ally and learned not to take anything in life for granted. What I did and what I do changed because I have a new perspective on what was, and redefined what should be. We have entered new markets, stocked different products and tried to best understand the needs of our customer so we can pivot and guarantee their future success.
Purchasing Director
Markon Cooperative
Salinas, CA
Hometown: Salinas, CA
Hobbies: Rugby, Golf
Personal/Community: Married, two children, Shoreline Community Church
Motto in life: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” — Matthew 6:34
A produce purchasing veteran with 15 years of working in the retail category, Dill is currently employed in the foodservice category helping lead Markon’s purchasing team. Growing up in Salinas, Dill always had the produce industry as part of his life — his family began farming when they settled in California in the early 1900s. He got his official start in the industry when he was 23 as an inspector for Kroger Wesco. Over the course of 12 years, Dill worked his way up, eventually earning the role of senior category buyer. During his tenure with Kroger, he was responsible for the procurement of many different items, most notably melons, corn, avocados and grapes.
In 2018, Dill was approached by OLAM International and brought in to head up the marketing of 11,000 acres of California almonds into North American markets. He was able to use his buying experience to strengthen relationships and expand sales with many national accounts across the U.S. and Canada. In 2019, he returned to his roots in Salinas and began a career with Markon Cooperative. He now serves as the co-purchasing director and over-sees the procurement of potatoes, onions, fruit items and value-added vegetables. In 2020, he was selected to take part in PMA’s Emerging Leaders Program.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
After graduating from college, I was working in the restaurant industry and playing rugby. While at the bar after a game, my coach said his company was looking for someone to run their cross-dock down in Yuma, AZ. I had no idea what a cross-dock was or where Yuma was, for that matter, but I needed a job and applied the next day. That began a 12-year career with The Kroger Co.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
The people in this business are some of the most genuine, hardworking, salt-of-the earth folks that you will ever come across, and the business itself is like no other. Starting out, I wish I would have known the influence these relationships would have on my career and development as a husband, father and man.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
There is no shallow end in produce. Starting out as a 23-year-old kid with no experience, I learned this the hard way. I was pushed to the deep end by industry veterans who expected me to know my stuff right away and to figure it out quickly if I didn’t. The most difficult challenge was learning the game as I played it and persevering through those early mistakes.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud of helping my support staff grow in their careers and watching them move on to bigger and better roles. Helping others navigate this business and sharing the lessons I’ve learned along the way has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
This last year made me realize that I am not in control. Each and every day, I wake up with gratitude and remind myself to not take anything for granted. My family, along with most families, has had to learn to enjoy the simpler things in life — home-cooked meals around the dining table, supporting our local restaurants by ordering takeout, serving at our local food bank and teaching our kids how to bake the perfect brownies. Nothing brings people together like food. The produce industry is resilient, and even though we’ve had to make many adjustments along the way, we serve and will continue to serve as an integral part of family life.
Co-Founder and
 Senior Vice President, Operations
Apeel
Goleta, CA
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada Hobbies: Hiking, Mountain biking, Volleyball (indoor & beach), Reading
Personal/Community: Significant other
Motto in life: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – Aesop
As an academic turned entrepreneur, Du is an inspiring leader who draws from her personal experiences and recognizes the value of giving back to the industry. Under her strategic leadership, Apeel was widely successful at demonstrating its breakthrough plant-based technology as a viable, food-grade solution to benefit everyone in the supply chain, and as a solution that could achieve commercially relevant scale to serve the global marketplace. To date, Apeel has raised $385 million, and is currently valued at more than $1 billion, by using the power of nature to enable longer-lasting produce without refrigeration. As the senior vice president of operations at Apeel, Du oversees the company’s worldwide efforts in environmental health and safety, regulatory affairs, quality, supply chain, manufacturing, project leadership and field operations. She leads the arm of the organization that connects strategy with execution, paving the way for Apeel’s global regulatory approvals and shepherding Apeel’s innovations to food supply chain customers.
To bring greater value to Apeel’s partners and further reduce waste in the fresh produce supply chain, Du also leads teams that explore new innovations beyond the edible coating technology and departments examining how to protect higher volumes and a greater diversity of fruits and vegetables with Apeel. She earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering chemistry and her Ph.D. in chemistry from Queen’s University in Kingston, ON, Canada where, during her graduate studies, she received an Alexander Graham Bell Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada in recognition of her research work. Following completion of her doctoral degree, she joined the chemistry department at University of California, Santa Barbara, as a postdoctoral researcher where she worked for two years prior to joining Apeel Sciences as its second employee and the director of extraction engineering.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Recognizing just how hard it would be to rely on increasing yields at the farm level to sustainably keep pace with a growing global population, we wanted to tackle the waste issue, and we wanted to focus on fresh produce, given their significant dietary and health importance, but also their high degree of perishability.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The fresh produce supply chain is multi-faceted and a tight, interdependent web. There is still a lot to learn, but trying to navigate the supply chain and understand where and how we best fit in and provide the greatest value was definitely a challenge at the outset.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Building a genuinely values-led organization that has enabled more than 50% reduction of waste of fresh produce categories at the retail level.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
The only certainty in this industry is change! Given the dynamic nature of the fresh produce supply chain, you’ll want to learn to manage within (and not expect to control) the “chaos.” To be honest, it’s why those in fresh produce love this industry — every day brings new challenges and opportunities!
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
If we remain overly focused on economies of scale and maximizing short-term profitability, we exacerbate the environmental challenges and supply chain disruptions. Industry-wide resilience is required to ensure reliable food production and distribution.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I’d love for consumers to really understand just how magical the whole end-to-end process is and what needs to come together in synchronicity to bring nutritious, high-quality fresh products into our homes (and ultimately into our bodies where they can work their wonders!). I would love for consumers to understand how powerful their choices are in shaping the produce supply chain and its long-term sustainability.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The past year has reinforced my appreciation, respect and gratitude for the workers in our fields, packinghouses, distribution centers and retail stores who faced higher levels of risk to make fresh produce avail-able to us all. It has further galvanized my personal commitment — and Apeel’s mission — to make sure those inputs and effort don’t go to waste and to continue working toward creating abundance for all.
Director of Produce Operations
Dutch-Way Farm Market
Schaefferstown, PA
Hometown: Robesonia, PA
Hobbies: Coaching sports, Playing softball, Spending time with family, Gardening
Personal/Community: Married, three children
Motto in life: Championships are won at practice.
Fiscus is known for leading from the front and setting a hard-working tone for the produce department. He started out as a part-time produce clerk at age 16, and in his early 20s, he took a truck-driving job in the beverage industry but continued to work part-time in the grocery store. One day, while delivering product to his current employer, Fiscus was asked if he would consider a job at the company and began working as a part time grocery store clerk for them. After one year, he was offered a full-time job as the grocery manager. A year later, a produce manager position opened up at the company’s biggest store, and Fiscus was offered that position. In addi-tion to managing one of the company’s biggest departments, he was also given the responsibility of writing produce ads and keeping in touch with other produce managers and buyers. During this tenure as produce manager, he entered many produce display contests and won/placed in a majority of them.
In 2018, growth in the company’s various store produce departments led to a position created just for him as director of produce operations. He became the first category director of any kind in the company’s history. Fiscus is committed to buying from local growers and up-and-coming wholesalers and is involved in purchasing, marketing, merchandising and management. He uses a “whole store” approach to cross merchandise and grow niche product lines, working tirelessly to make his departments produce destinations in their communities. Fiscus is known to be a patient and helpful teacher who takes the time to educate not only his managers but also his produce associates, Dutch-Way colleagues and company owners. In 2019, Fiscus was nominated by one of Dutch-Way’s wholesalers for the United Fresh Produce Association Produce Manager of the Year award.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The most challenging aspect for me early on was probably the constant price changes and challenges of getting fresh product when the market was tight — often having to make countless phone calls and send emails to wholesalers to secure that product. Also, not knowing what the day will bring was demanding. Every day in the produce industry is different, and many of these days require long hours and lots of problem solving.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Becoming the first director of produce operations for our company.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Work hard. There are so many opportunities for advancement. Over the years, I have seen so many young adults and teenagers get started as produce clerks and work their way up to management.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
One issue the industry is facing is the use of plastic packaging. At this point, we are all aware of the impact plastic has on our health and the environment. I would like to see alternative packaging that is healthier and can easily be recycled.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
That a lot more goes on than just filling a shelf. There is a constant rotation to keep product as fresh as possible, and trying to find the best prices from our wholesalers while keeping the quality at its best can be challenging. Many customers also do not understand that not all products are available year-round. Although we try our best to have everything, sometimes there are gaps in growing, which makes produce scarce and causes the pricing to go up. We are not able to control the market, and we do not raise the price just to make extra money. Sometimes when the market is so tight, we break even or even lose money to stay competitive.
Director of Operations
Fox Packaging
McAllen, TX
Hometown: McAllen, TX
Hobbies: Fishing, Hunting, Ranch work, Spending time outdoors
Motto in life: It is a luxury to pursue what makes you happy. It is a moral obligation to pursue what you find meaningful.
Since joining Fox Packaging, Fox has proven his ability to develop and improve efficiencies within the company through various roles. He began as a part-time employee in 2006, shadowing the production department. After graduating from college in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he joined the maintenance team. In 2015, Fox assumed the position of superintendent of maintenance and developed a complete maintenance department. After building a structurally sound department with engineering support, he was appointed as production manager in 2018.
Fox has worked steadily to strategically deploy each department’s capabilities in performance and measure-ment of realistic yields while substantiating key business decisions. Within six months of assignment, the produc-tion department consistently hit target goals and broke company records with respect to daily production. In January of 2020, Fox was named the director of operations. In this position, he works alongside the executive board to continue operational growth and productivity while over-seeing activities across all operation departments including shipping and receiving, engineering, quality control, printing and maintenance.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Having realistic expectations, with respect to team building, and investing individually in teams is one of the most crit-ical factors. Highlighting individuals’ key strengths adds value, not only to the team as a whole, but also to the morale of employees as key contributors to the organization. Each person grows at his/her own rate and individual focus makes a significant difference.
Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
At first, I was most challenged by applying theory-based knowledge in a field-based environment. Theory speaks of an idealistic space, but in manufacturing, the floor can be quite contrary to ideologies. In this industry, you must be mindful that once a solution surfaces, there is always another challenge that presents itself. It emphasizes the importance of process improvement through testing. Now, having experience in manufacturing, I appreciate strategic and long-term planning.
Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Demand for fresh produce and packaging is expected to continue to grow. The integration of automation solutions is a tool that not only increases competitiveness in businesses, but also allows you to push your brand and produce in an imaginative and mindful way. There is an opportunity to collaborate in creating efficient circular economies.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
We must continue to partner with dedicated organizations to offer produce in a convenient way. In a fast-moving consumer goods generation, how can we position ourselves if fast food is the alternative? Marketing communication that is aligned to consumer education and effectively communicating the benefits of healthy choices helps good food get eaten.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
As labor rates continue to increase, farming becomes more costly. Supporting the interests of food production is critical, as the success of farmers and packinghouses directly supports the peace of mind in our communities.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The biggest shift, specific to fresh produce, has been on the packaging side. Before, everything was basic petroleum-derived plastic. Today, we are starting to see a huge shift to, and demand for, sustainable, reusable, recyclable and even compostable packaging applications. Our challenge now is to understand how these shifts will translate in terms of product end-life and whether consumers will ultimately adhere to packaging labels, such as the How2Recycle label, to send materials to recycling facilities for profitable sorting.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
More than anything, this past year has softened my heart to the present. With projects and deadlines, we’re so often pulled away from where we are now to where we need to be. While this ‘future-state-of-mind’ is productive in its unique way, it removes us from the experience we are learning from now. I am even more thankful today for the family and friends who have reminded me that the work may not be done, but that progress is being made.
Vice President, Commercial Development
 and Analytics
Robinson Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN
Hometown: Victoria, MN
Hobbies: Cooking, Travel
Personal/Community: Two children, Animal Rescue, Pacer Center
Motto in life: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” — Maya Angelou
As vice president of commercial develop-ment and analytics, Garven has leadership accountability for the go-to-market strategy and analytics department at Robinson Fresh. Her responsibilities include developing commercial services, technologies and employee competencies that lead with an information advantage, as well as the development of analytical tools and processes that drive visibility, efficiency and enhanced intelligence. Additional responsibilities include the development and continued leadership for the company’s Category Management Training and Certification Program and the development and leadership for omnichannel services.
During her tenure, Garven led the development of proprietary software that enables Robinson Fresh demand and supply teams to plan and forecast their business to optimize supply chain solutions to customers. She built an internal training program and tools for commercial sales and supply teams. Garven led the initiative to create omnichannel solutions and capabilities that let Robinson Fresh provide support and services to help customers also achieve omnichannel solutions. Previous to her current position, she held positions of director of category management and business analytics (2017-2019); director of financial planning and analysis, category insights, business analytics (2014-2016); manager of category insights and business analytics (2010-2014); and senior busi-ness analyst (2008-2010). She is currently a Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) Research and Consumer Insights Committee co-chair and serves on the CGT (Center for Growing Talent by PMA) Woman’s Fresh Perspective committee.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Patience. I get energy from being able to drive projects forward and recognizing top line impacts that occur as a result, so it was hard in the beginning to be patient, take the time to really listen and learn more on the upfront of a project before diving into solution design.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
People development. I’m proud to see our people achieve success as a result of being empowered, with the right industry insights and business aptitude, to consult and develop solutions to support our customers’ current and future needs.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Always focus on the end consumer. Spend time and keep a pulse on how the shopper is evolving, both within produce as well as outside of the produce department — a produce shopper is also a consumer electronics shopper, textile shopper, home goods shopper. There is so much to learn from listening and watching how a shopper’s behavior evolves, and that leads to new innovation and industry evolution.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Supply on Demand. Shoppers have a new definition of convenience: They want what they want, when they want it and expect it just in time. This will continue to evolve not only how we offer solutions to omni-channel shopping, but how we re-engineer the supply chains, communication channels and the technology platforms needed to support this evolution.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Professionally, the past year has accelerated the growth in omnichannel solutions within grocery and, most pointedly, within fresh departments. This is such an exciting time to be in the fresh food business and to be part of the team helping drive new solutions to meet that consumer demand. Personally, this year has given me time to pause and reclaim a sense of enjoyment and gratitude for the little moments throughout the day that happen at home. I have had so much more time with my family, and I couldn’t be more thankful.
Communications Manager
Stemilt Growers
Wenatchee, WA
Hometown: Wenatchee, WA
Hobbies: Running, Hiking, Gardening
Personal/Community: Married, two daughters, Washington Apple Education Foundation
Motto in life: Don’t stress, do your best and forget the rest.
Harmon started at Stemilt in February 2017 as the marketing communications coordinator. She was responsible for creating content for Stemilt’s various social media channels as well as a contributing to their blog, The Stem. She also coordinated the company’s role at all trade shows and events. Under the guidance of Roger Pepperl, Harmon was able to fine-tune her marketing and communications skills and, in August 2020, she was promoted to communications manager where she now oversees all B2B and B2C communication strategies. She is responsible for creating communication strategies for both the trade and consumer audiences, including press tactics, social media strategy and brand promotion. She also oversees Stemilt’s various websites, manages several guest contributors and works to promote the Stemilt brand through various communication tools.
With the guidance of marketing director Brianna Shales, Harmon has continued building her skills in B2B marketing and developed stronger leadership and managerial skills. She was named Stemilt’s Admin Employee of the Month in October 2019. She was also named to Wenatchee World’s 30 Under 35 awards list at age 25 in 2018. In early 2021, she was accepted to be part of the U.S. Apple Association’s Young Apple Leaders program. She leads Stemilt’s Community Investment Committee and has served on Produce for Better Health Foundation’s Health and Wellness Commitee.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I grew up in Wenatchee, WA, so Stemilt was a household name. My dad actually worked for Stemilt, packing cherries when he was in high school, and my parents know the Mathison family. What really attracted me was what Stemilt stood for — supplying fresh snacking options to delight consumers around the globe. My mom was a health nut, so she instilled health nut tendencies within me, too. The idea of promoting a fresh and healthy product to people everywhere is pretty cool and ultimately attracted me to the industry.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
What didn’t?! The ag and produce industries are complex, and it takes years and years to learn. I remember when I first started, my boss, Brianna Shales, told me, “It takes about four to five years to really understand what Stemilt does and how the industry works” and there is so much truth to that. I feel like I kind of get it now, but I am still learning something new every day. I’m not a patient person, so the learning curve has been the biggest challenge.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I would love consumers to know more about how hard everyone works to get food on people’s tables. From the farm to the store, everyone in the process is critical in making sure consumers can purchase fresh fruits and veggies. There are many bright minds working hard to bring awareness to the produce industry, and it is crucial we continue to tell the story, share how food is grown and offer transparency whenever possible.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
The lack of consumption is a big concern of mine. If people stop eating fruits and vegetables, what does the state of human health look like for society? It’s scary to think about health consequences that come with a lack of a healthy diet. Produce for Better Health (PBH) already does a phenomenal job, and I am excited to watch their impact influence consumers in the coming years. Another way to help improve consumption is continuing the use of branded products. Brands are a pathway to creating a meaningful relationship with the consumer.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
To be brutally honest, the last two years have been extremely hard, which has totally shifted my outlook on life. On Dec. 31, 2018, my mom, who was then 58, was diagnosed with Stage IV Glioblastoma, in other words, terminal brain cancer. I was a brand-new mom to a 3-month-old, and my life turned upside down. Four months later, we said our goodbyes to my mom and two weeks after that, I learned I was pregnant with my second daughter. My daughter was born two days before the first COVID-19 case was reported in the U.S. After moving through grief, a pandemic and raising two kids without my mom around, I have learned that life is too short to be stressed out. It’s not easy and I’m not always great at it, but it’s totally worth it.
Vice President & Sourcing Manager
Oke USA Fruit Company/
Equal Exchange Produce
West Bridgewater, MA
Hometown: Boston
Hobbies: Cooking, Camping, Hiking
Motto in life: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
During her six years at Equal Exchange Produce, Jaidka has shown leadership, foresight and innovation in her role and in the organization’s rapidly growing produce department. Currently leading sourcing relationships, she has built long-term partnerships with banana and avocado producer partners, enhancing their access to the U.S. market and laying a foundation for a strong fair trade organic produce program. Jaidka has on-boarded several new producer partners to meet the growing demand, while maintaining the mission and integrity of the sourcing relationships. She spearheaded produce projects through the USAID Cooperative Development Program, enhancing producer capacities at origin through solidarity, and has done extensive work on connecting farmers with resources and markets, both locally and internationally. Jaidka stepped into the vice presidency in the summer of 2020, and continues to direct produce supply chains and lead a growing organization. She joined Equal Exchange Produce in 2015, after receiving her master’s degree in the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. She continues to remain challenged, fascinated and inspired by the fast-paced world of small farmer produce.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
I entered the industry from the nonprofit sector, so becoming comfortable with the high level of financial accountability took some adjustment. When importing a highly perishable product, it is easy to lose a full container worth of product quickly if there aren’t enough risk mitigation factors built into the supply chain.
Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
While there are some home delivery programs focused on imperfect or cosmetically damaged produce, I would like to see large-scale programs at the retail level focused on this category. Expanding this market will become increasingly important as the incidence of extreme climatic events increases. This is what we are seeing with our Mexican avocado program, where hailstorms are becoming more frequent and intense, increasing the availability of Category II fruit that’s safe for consumption, but cannot be moved in large volumes through principal sales channels.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Produce is a growing category in the grocery sector, but making it more widely available and affordable throughout the country will be important to promote more produce consumption. This will require interdisciplinary collaboration across the public and private sectors.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Consolidation in the food industry. It’s happening fast, and it’s happening all across the supply chain. Fewer decision makers are controlling the fate of the food industry, and it’s becoming harder for small scale farmers and independent companies to compete. This isn’t necessarily a hot button issue. If anything, this needs to be talked about more.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Supply chains are extremely complex. Every single produce item took an immense amount of negotiation, logistics and communication to get to the retail shelf.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Marketing has become increasingly challenging as consumers are getting inundated with advertising across all media platforms. At the same time, consumers are becoming savvier and seeking authentic branding.
Manager, Account Management
Robinson Fresh,
Managed Procurement
Services
Peoria, IL
Hometown: Peoria, IL
Hobbies: Running, Hiking, Golf, Chicago sports, Spending time with family
Personal/Community: Married, two children and one on the way (due July 2021)
Motto in life: Either you run the day, or the day runs you.
Kober is known as a behind-the-scenes asset, pushing the produce industry to be better through his strategic leadership influencing many foodservice produce programs. He works toward implementing strategies to increase traceability adoption, increasing technology capabilities and visibility, and strengthening partnerships across the supply chain on behalf of his customers. Kober started with Robinson Fresh in an account manager role in 2014 as part of the Managed Procurement Services (MPS) team, working closely to support a national foodservice customer from a day-to-day account management perspec-tive. Over the years, his role expanded into that of a key account manager in 2016, and then into a manager of account management in 2017.
He now provides managerial support to a team of best-in-class key account managers who support large foodservice customers on behalf of Robinson Fresh’s MPS team. Working out of the Robinson Fresh Peoria, IL, office, he excels at interacting with customers and solving their produce supply chain needs, as well as connecting with produce distributors and suppliers that make up Robinson Fresh’s fresh produce supply chain network. Prior to Robinson Fresh, Kober worked at Aldi in its Corporate Supply Chain Department from 2012 to 2014. From 2010 to 2012, he worked at XPO Logistics (formerly known as Menlo Logistics).
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Being nominated for, and winning, Partner of the Year for a large, national foodservice customer was a great accomplishment. I speak on behalf of the entire C.H. Robinson team as to our appreciation of that long-tenured partnership and their recognition of our hard work, care and commitment to serve.
Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Traceability as an industry continues to be a looming conversation, and we need to get buy-in at all supply chain levels. I’ve learned a lot about this topic and the benefits that would come from this type of product visibility throughout the produce supply chain. The next big hurdle to improving traceability in the fresh produce industry is getting more partners, beyond the supplier level, to invest in this type of technology.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Ask a lot of questions. There are so many things within the produce industry that never get talked about, or even thought of, until you experience and see it firsthand. Also, don’t be afraid to make a mistake. There is a lot of produce knowledge that can be gained only through experience. Embrace those mistakes and learn from them.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Advisories. In 2018 and 2019, for example, we saw the impact these had on the romaine sector. I think the biggest questions are: 1) Will blanket statements outing an entire commodity continue; 2) What commodity will be affected next; 3) How can we as an industry influence these advisories to be more source or supplier direct and not overarching across an entire commodity; 4) How can we get suppliers on the same page from a food safety standpoint to ensure a few “bad eggs” aren’t negatively impacting everyone else throughout the supply chain; and 5) How will these advisories impact our customers and consumer demand in the long term?
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Many consumers take for granted how that salad gets to their favorite restaurant or to their kitchen table. From the seed to the fields, it takes. It takes a small army to make it happen and that is assuming everything goes as planned. And while all those things are happening, don’t forget about food safety, with countless individuals ensuring every step of the way that product is handled with care and confidence to keep consumers safe. The more consumers know about “how it works,” the more appreciation they will have for those that support the fresh supply chain.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Shifts in consumer demand over the past year resulted in reallocation of resources and required an “all hands on deck” approach. This new mentality made us more resilient, more collaborative and gave us grit. It forced us to come together in a time of need to support one another, our supply chain partners and our customers. I’m proud to look back at the last year to see what we accomplished with the team here at Robinson Fresh and through our strategic supplier and distributor partnerships.
Director of Marketing
John Vena Inc.
Philadelphia
Hometown: Philadelphia
Hobbies: Cooking, Fermenting, Gardening, Yoga, Reading, Hiking, Crossword puzzles, Astrology, Travel
Personal/Community: Significant other, South Philly Food Co-op
Motto in life: Be present in each moment. Understand how your actions and decisions impact others.
Kohlhas’ career started at a well-respected regional planning organization in Philadelphia where she developed an attachment to cooking, restaurants and farming. Over the next several years, she worked at a variety of organizations, including Fair Food Philly, a nonprofit working to connect local farmers to wholesale markets; the Vetri Community Partnership, an organization operating from-scratch school lunch programs; V Street, an innovative plant-based restaurant; and Love Apple Farms, the exclusive farm of Michelin-starred restaurant Manresa.
In 2015, she started as sales and marketing coordinator at John Vena Inc., taking over the company’s bare-bones marketing program and handling sales for a select customer group, primarily broadliners. Kohlhas brought on a number of high-value accounts in the meal kit sector while coordinating all the marketing support services offered to major foodservice clients. After only a year, she created the organization’s first strategic marketing plan and began to participate in leadership strategy discussions. In 2017, Kohlhas transitioned into the role of director of marketing. Since coming into this role, she has worked on a number of major projects not just in marketing, but across departments, including leading a comprehensive rebrand; launching a new website; organizing the company’s 100th anniversary celebration; establishing an executive-level strategic planning process; developing a new employee performance review program; creating a content marketing program; implementing Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology to support business development; coordinating a COVID-response plan; and securing participation in the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Unlike many others, I have no family connections to the produce industry — I got involved purely because of my love for food and my insatiable curiosity about where it comes from and how! It is still amazing to me that the natural world provides such an abundance of energy for us to borrow — and that it tastes so good to boot.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I’m quite proud of how much positive feedback I receive, from both my co-workers and clients, when I design and deliver training sessions. I am also particularly proud to have coordinated and facilitated successful visioning processes for both John Vena Inc. and the South Philly Food Co-op. Both the mission statements we developed during those sessions are still in use and inspiring people today.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
It’s all about the product. No matter what your title, learn about farming and what it takes to create these living things that happen to be edible — talk to growers, visit farms, ask lots of questions.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Sustainability. While our carbon footprint in the produce industry may be lower than those of the meat or processed food industries, or even the commodity crop industry, there are many ways in which we contribute to the environmental (and social) catastrophe we are facing — not to mention many ways in which we suffer the consequences. There are a lot of cool projects out there in the sustainability space, but our highly consolidated and increasingly tech-heavy food system makes us slave to commoditization, transportation, packaging and shelf-life extension.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Even in my six short years in the produce industry, consolidation has made a big impact on the landscape in all directions. It’s getting more and more difficult to operate without relentless pursuit of economies of scale and vertical integration.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
My family has always been important to me, but this past year made it clear to me that they are the most important thing in my life. But it’s also given me the headspace to articulate the things I really want to contribute to in my work and life: environmental regeneration, the protection of small businesses and local supply chains, and the preservation of craftsmanship and traditional knowledge. I’m on the lookout for projects that will allow me to bring this mission to life!
Sales & Marketing/
 Food Safety Coordinator
Torrey Farms Inc.
Elba, NY
Hometown: Elba, NY
Hobbies: Cheering on her kids’ baseball, soccer and gymnastics; Gardening
Personal/Community: Married, two children, nonprofit work for the Jordyn Torrey Memorial Foundation (cancer support, youth athletics and agriculture programs) in honor of her late sister, Jordyn.
Motto in life: “It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it.” — Jimmy Dugan.
Kyle is the 12th generation of a New York family farm, and brings passion and knowledge to her family’s 14,000-acre farm that produces a variety of fresh vegetables. In 2013, Torrey Farms received the American Vegetable Grower’s Grower Achievement Award. Kyle started working full time at the family business in 2007 after graduating from Cornell University. Her earliest roles in the family business were learning the keys to sales and marketing, getting to know the farm’s many customers and working as an assistant to help her aunt and mentor, Maureen Torrey, who was the lead and only salesperson marketing all of the vegetables. About two years later, she was still working in sales and marketing, but also took on the challenge of developing and implementing many of the farm’s food safety policies across farming operations.
Today, she spends the majority of her time leading the sales and marketing of all of the fresh market and storage vegetables that the farm ships year-round, while overseeing the food safety programs and compliance. In 2011-2012, she took part in the United Fresh Leadership Program. Kyle works almost daily with Feeding America and the many food banks across the country. She is also involved with the New York Farm Viability Institute, New York Vegetable Growers Association, The Center for Produce Research, Farm to School program, agriculture career days for secondary students and Kinder Ag Day.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
The pride felt in the production and marketing of healthy food is what attracted me to the produce industry. I grew up around the family business, as part of the 12th generation at the farm. My dad did not consider it going to work; he never called it that. He loved what he did, and I observed this throughout my childhood, and that ultimately set the tone for my life.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Relationships are critically important. People change jobs, customers come and go, buyers change all the time, and it is the ability to stay connected and informed that keeps you on top and moving forward. Every day, there is an opportunity to make connections, and you must be paying atten-tion to the industry around you, because if you aren’t, you will be left in the dust.
Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Some of our more “passionate” customers. Looking back, they were teaching me. They challenged me every day when I was first learning the ropes of marketing. They kept me on my game and taught me to be prepared, to have the answers to the questions you know the customers are going to ask. Be ready. And always tell the truth. If you don’t know, say so.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Produce people are in a league of their own. Take advantage of the many mentors out there you will meet. I have found they are more than willing to share their knowledge and expertise to help the next generation succeed, and that is an opportunity in itself.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
In my 14 marketing seasons so far, the use of digital communication has increased significantly. In my first few seasons, most of the buying and selling was still completed by a phone call. This allowed for a lot more information to be exchanged quickly, but you have to answer your phone. This has transitioned to a huge increase in email and texting that is super useful at times, but often results in less information. Some really useful information that can be gained by talking to a customer for just a few minutes is often missed entirely when communicating by email or text. So, while the digital age provides us with a wealth of convenience, flexibility and certain types of information, the human interaction that is lost at times can be a challenge in the fast-moving world of produce marketing.
Brand Manager
Litehouse Inc.
Sandpoint, ID
Hometown: Mariposa, CA
Hobbies: Gardening, Camping, Snow-boarding, Mountain biking, Hiking, Raising chickens/bees
Personal/Community: Married, one son
Motto in life: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” — her grandfather
Throughout her career, Lindholm has shown exemplary leadership and initiative. She joined Litehouse in 2014 as a project manager for the foodservice channel, later moving to the retail channel. In November 2015, she took on the role of assistant brand manager, and in April 2017, she was promoted to her current position of brand manager.
Following Litehouse’s 2019 acquisition of Sky Valley and Organicville, Lindholm was tasked with managing the two brands. She took on the challenge and began the process of revamping both brands, evaluating positioning, margin profitability and conducting marketplace analysis. This project, which included over 35 SKUs, a brand DNA analysis, a design process and consumer surveys, had 28 unique designs between the two brands and thousands of consumers sharing their feedback. Additionally, Lindholm coordinated the integration of the new brands’ corresponding manufacturing facility, which included bringing the facility into current systems and processes and pricing analysis.
While managing these two new-to-Lite-house product lines, Lindholm also spearheaded the launch of the Cosmic Crisp apple cider by Litehouse, which was the first Cosmic Crisp cider during the varietal’s first year of harvest. She also worked on Green Garden, a new product line launch, laying the groundwork for nationwide retailer distribution in 2020, including packaging design and a brand website, as well as running several cross promotions with other brands throughout the year. In 2019, her existing product lines were also up by double-digit growth.
In 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Lindholm finalized a major rebrand for two new acquisitions, which included over 25 reformulations with entirely new pack-aging and delivered them into the market, despite the challenges of getting packaging tested due to COVID restrictions, shifting timelines due to priority changes and managing various cross-functional teams. She launched five new innovative items into the market, which included three new “No added salt” SKUs, which were developed and launched in conjunction with Whole Foods Market. In early 2021, Lindholm took on managing her third acquisition in two years, Veggiecraft Farms. She is now integrating this new brand, creating new marketing plans to support and help the sales team increase distribution. She is also launching three new brands and 35 SKUs into Canada (Organicville, Veggiecraft and Sky Valley).
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I was a product manager/product developer in the fashion industry, and I saw an opening at Litehouse for a project manager. I applied and immediately loved working for the company, because of its tremendous values, and also being in the produce industry. I was attracted to stay in the industry because it is fast-paced and exciting, while promoting quality ingredients — something I can really stand behind.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I was working on a video that we did when we partnered with the Idaho Potato Commission on how to give back to your local food banks. It was a sweepstakes where if you entered, you could win Thanksgiving dinner for your family, and if you won, we would donate to your local food bank. At a full company quarterly meeting, I was recognized for my efforts as it related to helping with our local food bank. I have never seen that at a quarterly meeting before. I was shocked and incredibly proud to be recognized. To think that I could inspire others to give back was a monumental achievement for me.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Cross merchandising, brand partnerships and convenient meal solutions. As a consumer I am always looking for ways to better pair products I might already purchase to make dinner easier. I think merchandising for convenient dinner ideas (for example), could really get people to pick products off the shelf.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
At Litehouse, we began getting into digital tactics a few years ago, and I think with the COVID-19 pandemic, that has really skyrocketed. Now we see curbside pickup and digital transactions that we never saw before. The produce industry will continue to need to adapt and evolve to support a more digital shopping experience as consumers move toward this.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
While it has been incredibly challenging and trying at times, there have been many silver linings to the pandemic, and I think it put a lot of things into perspective. This past year, I have spent more time with my family, grown closer to my amazing team and had to navigate things no one thought would ever be reality. So many people continue to keep their head down and keep pushing forward despite the challenges, and it’s really admirable. Overall, this has made both me and our entire organization nimbler and more creative with our problem solving and solutions.
Vice President of Sales and Procurement
North Bay Produce
Traverse City, MI
Hometown: Traverse City, MI
Hobbies: Hunting, Fishing, Boating, Traveling, Biking
Motto in life: Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
During his 14 years with North Bay, Lockman has worked his way up through the company from logistics to management. He is known for driving business and building strong relationships while traveling throughout North America, South and Central America working with berry growers. Lockman manages some of North Bay’s top retail accounts and has been a force in the berry category for years. He started with North Bay produce out of college in 2007, first as logistics manager, lining up transportation for the company’s orders. In 2009, he transitioned to sales account representative, selling all the North Bay products to customers and managing retail accounts. In 2012, Lockman was promoted to berry category manager, where he took responsibility for the entire berry category for North Bay. During this time, he managed the growers, multiple sales aspects, quality expectations, and production and packaging and communicated about the crop to the sales team. In 2017, he became production and market manager, serving as a link between the sales and procurement team, dealing with grower issues, and studying and managing the sales pricing.
In 2018, Lockman was promoted to vice president of sales and procurement and now manages both the sales and procurement teams, overseeing all production and sales worldwide. He logs about 40 to 45 travel weeks a year, visiting growers and customers to discuss existing and future plans and developments.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I had known our company president outside of work for many years. The pace and no-day-is-the-same concept was really attractive. I have been very fortunate to be able to ride the growth within the blueberry industry that correlated into growth within North Bay, which ultimately led to my growth within the company.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
The produce industry will always be the produce industry, and there will always be problems. Being able to move on and prepare for the next problem is a skill all its own.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Weather events.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
The relationships I have with the growers I work with, as well as my colleagues around the industry. The success of North Bay has been the North Bay team as well as the group of growers that we represent.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Take in everything that you can, keep things relationship-based and listen to people who have been in the industry for a long time.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Given the current landscape, logistical issues we used to take for granted will become hot buttons over the next few years. Assurance of supply will become paramount.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
The effort it takes to get product from seed to table, what effort is put into each step within the supply chain in order to get consumers what they want/need.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Increased regulation. More constraints put on the supply chain.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Working remotely has been a new challenge for all of us. I have always worked across geographies and with virtual teams, but it was challenging with a feeling of isolation in the beginning. On a personal level, I’ve put additional focus on staying in touch with more family and friends. I look forward to the “new normal” in a post-pandemic era and embracing the good that came from the challenges we faced, while resuming some of my favorite activities such as spending time in-person around the country with friends, families, colleagues, growers and customers.
Director, Strategic Accounts
Robinson Fresh
Monterey, CA
Hometown: Minnetonka, MN
Hobbies: Golf, Hiking, Travelling, Wine tasting, Cabin time in northern MN
Personal/Community: Ag Against Hunger, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, Young Life, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, San Francisco LGBT Center
Motto in life: Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Lynch is a top-performing leader with 15 years of industry experience developing solutions, products and services aligned to grocery retail and agricultural industries across all C.H. Robinson divisions, including NAST, Robinson Fresh, TMC and Global Forwarding. Lynch is a people-first, adaptable, transformational leader with an ability to build highly engaged, diverse and inclusive teams and is adept at creating and driving strategic direction, delivering high-impact communication and developing opportunities that deliver on the C.H. Robinson Customer Promise.
He currently leads Robinson Fresh sustainability efforts for its strategic product categories, and led efforts to build a fair trade certified program at Robinson Fresh to support growers, farmworkers and communities in Latin America through fair trade purchases. Robinson Fresh has generated $100,000 in community development funds in its first year of the program. In addition, Lynch is responsible for Robinson Fresh food waste reduction efforts, developing industry partnerships and new product/packaging programs to support clients focused on eliminating food waste.
He joined C.H. Robinson’s Monterey, CA, office in 2010, relocating from Eden Prairie, MN, to connect with the Salinas Valley’s agriculture community and take on a role within account management of the C.H. Robinson Western Growers Transportation program. In this role, Lynch developed innovative cold-chain solutions for shippers, including real-time temperature monitoring and location tracking available through the C.H. Robinson Navi-sphere platform. Lynch also developed as a leader within the produce industry with active participation in industry association board meetings as a transportation expert; earned recognition from clients including U.S. Carrier of the Year; and aligned with California universities as an industry resource on curriculum development and post-graduation recruitment.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I joined C.H. Robinson in 2006 at the headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN, in a part-time job while finishing school. I learned more about Robinson’s role as a leader within the produce industry and jumped on the opportunity to move to Monterey, CA, after C.H. Robinson acquired Foodsource, a leading produce sourcing company in the Salinas Valley. Since Day One, the people who make up our industry, from field to fork, are what attracted me to the industry and what keeps me excited about coming to work every day.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Waking up early in the morning. I’ve never been a morning person, but when I joined the industry, my schedule was 6 a.m. to 4 p.m with a lot of after-hours and weekend activity on top of that. I learned to love coffee (lots of espresso shots!) and how to create work/life harmony.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the personal impact I’ve been able to make while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by supporting retail supply chains and making fresh, healthy items available in-store and online to nourish consumers around the globe.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
This is truly an industry where you get out of it what you put into it and where relationships do matter.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
There’s an increased awareness and higher expectations within consumers, coupled with adoption of new technologies at a faster pace in every part of the supply chain. One thing I’m grateful for in this industry is that you truly learn something new every single day that you come to work. Not many can say that about their own careers!
Director of Produce and Floral
HAC Inc.
Oklahoma City
Hometown: Purcell, OK
Hobbies: Running, Coaching sports
Personal/Community: Married, three children, St. Timothy United Methodist Church
Motto in life: Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ’Til your good is better and your better is best.
As a teenager, Mabry began his career as a bagger at United Supermarkets in Oklahoma, where his father was the store manager, and where the younger Mabry’s love for produce started. Currently, he is director of produce and floral at HAC, Inc., an 80-store grocery chain featuring eight banners with stores across Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Georgia, including his first produce employer, United Supermar-kets. Before joining HAC, Mabry held the position of produce sales manager with Associated Wholesale Grocers-Gulf Coast Division, where he managed every aspect of produce sales, procurement and operations. Prior to AWG, he held roles as produce manager and produce merchandiser with Albertsons.
His career journey has provided him with diverse experiences and a broad foundation of responsibilities in various areas, customer segments and categories. His expertise includes produce sales management, merchandising, procurement, warehouse management and strategic marketing. He is known for his collaborative communication style and strong work ethic. His ability to connect with people and exceed objectives has earned him the respect and trust of colleagues, customers and suppliers. Mabry is a graduate of the Southeast Produce Council’s STEP UPP Program and serves on the council’s Step UPP Committee. He also serves on the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit Committee and is an active member of the Double Up Oklahoma (DUO) program.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My love for produce started in the grocery business, as a teenager following in the footsteps of my father, Ricky Mabry. At the time, he worked for United Supermarkets, and I began my career there.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I understood what it takes to get fresh produce to the consumer. The amount of work the grower, shipper and retailer do to provide fresh produce to the consumer, at the cost we do, is truly amazing.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Speaking at Southeast Produce Council’s Power of Produce.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Work hard and do not give up. I came from the stores and as a former produce manger.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
The cost that it takes to grow, pack, and ship produce — all of the red tape involved with H2A (the U.S. Department of Labor temporary agricultural worker program) and the fact that most Americans will not pick fruit.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
There are almost no items that you cannot source anymore. Basically, the price might go up, but you can now get almost all the items you want in the produce department year-round. Packaging has improved, refrigeration has improved, shipping has improved, and there is less labor in the produce department than ever before.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
It has made me have a backup plan for everything. I think the future is good for retailers — people have learned to cook again!
Vice President of Operations
J. Marchini Farms
Le Grand, CA
Hometown: Le Grand, CA
Hobbies: Skiing, Cooking, Wine Collecting, Playing Music
Personal/Community: Married, three kids, Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Le Grand, the Merced Walk to End Alzheimer’s
Motto in life: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Marchini’s passion for sales and fresh produce started as a young child when he would travel to farmers markets in the area with his mother. His farm duties continued to increase every summer, and by the time he was in college, he would track sales forecast for inventory and look at market trends for the Fourth of July and Labor Day. After he graduated college from California State University, Chico, Marchini came back to his passion for agriculture at J. Marchini Farms. Working on the sales desk, he would send out passings, dispatch trucks and notify the cooler of the orders for the day. When the company added figs to its product line the same year, he took to the selling them, marketing under the Joe’s Premium Label. He created a successful fresh fig program, maintained customer relationships, settled contracts with major domestic and export customers and streamlined sales and packing processes.
Beyond the sales department, he naturally began to oversee production duties, starting with quality checks, and gradually took over the entire process and facility. After the packinghouse operation was dialed in, Marchini began working to improve the food safety department. Meeting the challenge head on, he orchestrated the development of a robust food safety department that exceeds the standards of today’s buying community. During his tenure, he has been elected to sit on the boards of directors of Valley Fig Growers cooperative and Minturn Nut Growers, an almond handler.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I began working with produce by selling our produce at the local farmers markets. Selling the products to a broader range of buyers is what attracted me to the industry. In my first year, I can remember being fascinated when I’d get to talk to a buyer on the East Coast or overseas in Japan. The scope of the fresh produce industry is remarkable.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I’m always learning new things, so it’s hard to pick just one thing, but if there was one, it would have been to speak Spanish fluently.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Building rapport with buyers and industry members.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Building a fresh fig program.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Find your passion, what drives you. All jobs will give you a paycheck, but if you find your passion, you’ll achieve your dreams.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I want consumers to know that eating more fruits and vegetables is a key component to living a long and healthy life, and that the majority of those fruits and vegetables are grown, packed and shipped by family businesses.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
In many ways, it’s still the same — it’s a relationship-based industry where trust is the key component while driving for success. However, the biggest change I’ve seen is the attention to food safety.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The challenging events of 2020 came at the right time for me. I have a young family, and coming out of last year I’m going to put more focus on scheduling family time and talking to my kids about the realities of the world early and often.
Founder & Chief Executive
Full Harvest
San Francisco
Hometown: Bradenton, FL
Hobbies: Piano, Cooking, Travel, Dance, Reading
Personal/Community: Musical Empowerment (music education nonprofit) founder, YPO, CalChamber, advisory board member for The Center for Food Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University
Motto in life: Go big or go home.
Moseley founded Full Harvest to solve the problem of nearly 20 billion plus pounds of cosmetically imperfect or unharvested produce wasted each year. It has been the first business-to-business marketplace for surplus and imperfect produce. To date, Full Harvest has sold over 35 million pounds of surplus and imperfect produce, equating to about 2 billion gallons of water saved and about 12 milling kg of CO2E emissions prevented. The company also works with some the largest food brands in the world to create innovative products with surplus and imperfect produce.
Moseley has more than 15 years of experience in the logistics and food industries at Fortune 100 companies, including Maersk and Procter & Gamble, as well as high-growth food startups. In her last corporate role as head of strategic projects and business development, she assisted Organic Avenue, a New York City healthy food and juice startup, in doubling its size. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. She was recently recognized as Inc.’s Top 100 Female Founders, number two Most Innovative Woman in Food & Drink, and a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneer.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I spent 15 years in the logistics and food industries, and I saw the devastation of food waste firsthand. One day, when visiting a large farm, I found myself stepping calf-deep on beautiful, edible romaine leaves — more than 75% of the edible leaves were being torn off and wasted to harvest the romaine hearts for grocery stores! I decided there had to be a better solution and became emboldened to tackle the massive issue of food waste in our country. I strive for a world with zero food-waste and am now working with hundreds of farmers to help them increase their revenues and maximize their harvests.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Billions of pounds of imperfect and surplus produce — more than 25% of all edible yields — go to waste every year in the U.S. Food waste is now the number one contributor to climate change. It’s a problem that so many food and beverage companies see, but I have set out to solve. In my last role, I was helping scale one of the first green juice companies in the country, and, while I loved what they were doing in terms of food and awareness, I was frustrated that they were selling $13 green juices that weren’t sustainable or affordable. I looked for the source of the problem, and it boiled down to paying top dollar for perfect-looking produce that was then immediately processed.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Throughout my time in the industry, I discovered that the produce industry is currently up to 96% offline. In 2020, my company launched a produce spot marketplace to amplify contract ordering. Produce buyers can also purchase spot produce needs with an Amazon-like shopping experience. We have recently seen orders purchased in a few clicks by buyers and confirmed by the farm with no human interaction other than coordinating the logistics, which is unheard of and a game changer for the industry.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I’m extremely proud of the team I have built. I had never hired, fired or directly managed before building Full Harvest, and it turned out to be one of the hardest parts of running a business. I have invested a lot into my growth as a leader and manager and now am proud to say that we have one of the most passionate, hardworking and nice group of experts solving one of the biggest challenges of humanity.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
COVID has been net positive for us, and we have scaled substantially over the last three quarters due to the food and ag industries realizing how critically they need technology when there are shifts within supply/demand. During the pandemic, we instigated a partnership with the Curry Family’s Foundation, WCK and Salesforce that helped farmers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis provide produce boxes to more than 250,000 food insecure families and are continuing to scale. We see more opportunity to leverage our technology for even more good.
Vice President of Production and Transportation Nardelli Bros. Inc./Lake View Farms
Cedarville, NJ
Hometown: Cedarville, NJ
Hobbies: Fishing, Hunting, Golfing
Motto in life: Live life to the fullest because we do not know what tomorrow brings.
Nardelli is considered a huge asset to the family business as an innovative farmer in addition to being well rounded in all aspects of distribution and trucking. He is well respected and has been instrumental in bringing Nardelli Bros. into the future of advanced agriculture, distribution, transportation, food safety and packaging. Nardelli Bros. Inc.–Lake View Farms has always been a part of his life. He worked on the farm during high school and was president of the FFA program. After college, he wanted nothing more than to return to the farm and be part of the produce business. Throughout his years with the company, Nardelli has held various positions. Currently, as vice president of production and transportation, he has implemented new growing practices, harvesting techniques and packing strategies, including the farm’s newest tray pack overwrapping operation. Nardelli also manages the operation’s trucking company, enabling it to make quick and timely overnight deliveries to many major cities. He is known for embodying the same values and ethics of his grandfather and father, while being innovative enough to advance to the next generation.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I knew since I was very young, when I would ride around the farm with my grandfather and father, that I wanted to be in the produce industry. From planting the seed, through the growing, harvesting, packaging and delivery to the customer, we take pride in knowing the end consumers enjoy what they purchased and come back for more.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
My biggest accomplishment has been the ability to take a 123-year-old, family-run company to the next generation. Working with my father, Bill Sr., and my brother, Bill Jr., makes me proud to be able to take our family business to the fifth generation.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
I believe it’s very important to make sure the end consumers know where their product is coming from. Here in the Garden State, we have always been proud to promote the “Jersey Fresh” logo along-side our company trademark “Fresher by Miles,” and consumers know they are taking quality, local produce home to feed their families.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
The biggest issue I see is the lack of labor. The competition from imported produce in the U.S. makes it difficult to compete. Many other countries are harvesting their product for a much lower labor cost than the U.S. and that makes it hard to market when there’s a major cost difference. We continue to be innovative in our harvest techniques by adding new equipment to make us more efficient, but a lot of our fresh vegetables are harvested by hand. With the labor force getting smaller, that’s a major concern to us over the next decade.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Convenience is more important for our customers, with many families living busy lifestyles. While holding the highest standards in quality and food safety, we have continued to make our products easier to take home with our tray pack overwrapping operations. This trend will continue, as consumers want to know the portion sizes of the product they are purchasing as well as nutritional facts.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Not being able to connect with people face-to-face and having to conduct virtual meetings was a true challenge. You didn’t realize how much looking someone in the eyes and a handshake meant until it was taken away. I feel the outbreak was an eye-opener for many people in their daily life and made the country overall a much cleaner place. I am looking forward to the future, continuing to overcome this pandemic and provide safe, fresh produce for consumers across the country to enjoy.
Senior Manager Insights & Innovation
The Oppenheimer Group
Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Hometown: Gainesville, GA
Hobbies: Going on “adventures” with her husband and two boys, Biking, Hiking, Reading, Cooking
Personal/Community: Married, two boys, Produce for Better Health Foundation, Project Host Soup Kitchen (Greenville, SC)
Motto in life: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden
Perkins began her career in the fresh produce industry in 2009 as a sales representative working for Francis Produce in Greenville, SC. Her customers were chefs and restaurants in the Greenville area. Within the first eight months of employment, she acquired 50-plus foodservice accounts and established a company wellness program. In 2011, Perkins moved across the country to obtain a master’s degree in agribusiness at California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo, CA.
Upon graduation, she accepted an internship with The Oppenheimer Group. She served as a sales intern for the company for six months before being hired as a full-time sales and business development representative. In this hybrid role, she developed and implemented a company-wide foodservice strategy, in addition to leading and growing Oppy’s foodservice net sales, increasing 16% in one year. In 2015, she took on a newly created role for the company as retail solutions specialist. In this position, Perkins served as an expert in produce industry news and retail trends to assist in fact-based decision making, in addition to creating data-based presentations and materials for Oppy’s sales team and the executives.
In 2019, she became senior manager of insights and innovation. She continues to manage the insights portion of Oppy’s business, but the majority of her time is now spent actively managing and growing innovation. This includes trials with new technologies and evaluating new products, in addition to exploring new ventures for the company. One of her notable accomplishments thus far is securing a technology trial of a robotic harvester for strawberry production, currently being tested in Oppy’s fields in California.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
One year after I graduated from college, I was searching for a profession I felt was a good fit with my interests and aspirations. A friend from Clemson (my alma mater) suggested I send my resume to his family friend, Steve Francis, owner of Francis Produce in Greenville, SC. Steve ended up hiring me as a sales rep and taught me a great deal about the produce industry.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Over the years, I have learned the impact of having mentors. I have been fortunate to have mentors who helped me make pivotal decisions and advised me throughout my career. I have been amazed, time and time again, how generous my mentors have been with sharing their time, expertise and wisdom with me. It has been invaluable.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of taking on the role of innovation manager at Oppy. This is the first time the company has had an individual managing this part of the business, so in many ways, I have been building it from the ground up. I list this as the accomplishment I am most proud of because the role and its potential was unknown — it was a risk. However, the opportunity appeared to be a good fit for my skills and aspirations, and so I felt it was worth taking a chance. Thus far, I think it was a great decision and one I will look back on later in my career as a critical one.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
When you are getting into the business, it’s extremely important to listen to the folks who have been in the industry and heed lessons they have learned along the way and suggestions they have for how to be successful. While the produce business is undoubtedly changing rapidly, there is still a great deal of knowledge to be gained from produce industry veterans.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
One of the most critical issues facing our industry is labor. The current system is simply not sustainable. Over the next decade, we must find new methods and technologies that will let growers produce their products in a manner that is economically viable and socially responsible.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The industry is embracing new technologies and new ways of working in a much bigger way these days. There is more of an appetite for innovation and different perspectives than there was when I started. The industry is also noticeably trying to encourage women and minorities to be engaged in the industry and providing opportunities for them to do so.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
I was fortunate to get extra time with my family because of the unique set of circumstances. And the past year has given me a great deal of time to reflect on how I want to live my life. As for my future outlook, I aim to prioritize things and people that are truly important, in addition to trying not to worry about things that are out of my control. Finally, the last year made me even more grateful to work in the produce industry, a truly essential business. I was also amazed to witness the resiliency of Oppy and my colleagues while navigating so many unknowns and new situations throughout the pandemic.
Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Wish Farms
Plant City, FL
Hometown: South Lake Tahoe, CA
Hobbies: Golf, Biking, Live music, Spending time with family
Personal/Community: Married, two boys, Wish Farms Family Foundation
Motto in life: Be nice. Work hard. Stay humble.
Peterson is an accomplished sales professional who has brought creative and unique experience to the produce industry. Peterson joined Wish Farms in 2011. During his tenure, he has modernized strategies implemented with the sales department to put focus on a more accelerated but controlled growth from planning to execution. He has consistently led the company’s exponential growth and continued to create and develop relationships with retail partners.
Prior to joining Wish Farms, Peterson spent eight years working in professional sports, including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors, Dallas Cowboys and Legends Premium Sales (Rose Bowl). During his time at Golden State, he led a sales team responsible for the most tickets sold in the NBA in 2007. While in Dallas, he managed and was part of a sales team responsible significant premium seating revenue for AT&T Stadium – a record for a new stadium opening. During his time at Legends, he developed pricing and sales strategies to sell newly created premium seating options at the Rose Bowl Stadium. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University with a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Everything. Coming from a non-produce background, I really spent the first few years immersing myself into each aspect of the business — from farming, to operations and to our retail partnerships — to fully understand how each department relies on the other to be successful.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the sales and marketing team I have assembled over the last few years. I have found a group of individuals who are smart, driven and strive to be great. We have a team mantra of “progress, not perfection.”
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
In this industry, I feel it is so easy to get caught up in the wins and losses of the daily battles. This industry is filled with highs and lows. The problem is the highs sometimes aren’t high enough in comparison to the lows. Things can change so quickly. You have to be able to control your emotional energy and keep a larger perspective on what is important.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Sustainability of berry farming. We face higher growing costs and labor challenges, all while the industry continues to put heightened pressure on more aggressive retail pricing. We are in the midst of working on some automated solutions to hopefully lessen our need for the traditional model of strawberry farming, but until those come to fruition, there is still a balancing act between the two.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Before I started working in produce, my grocery shopping experience was much different from today. I didn’t truly understand the scope of the industry until I went to my first trade show and saw how many entities there really are. I think consumers would have a greater appreciation for where their food came from if they were able to see the entire process along the way.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The pandemic has challenged us to become much more technologically efficient and productive in a remote setting. With that said, I am hopeful we can continue to achieve a better work/life balance moving forward. In this day and age, it is so important to mentally stay fresh. I believe our ability to continue some level of a remote workplace will be key to keeping our employees happy, productive and retained.
Director of Food Safety & Compliance
North Bay Produce, Inc.
Traverse City, MI
Hometown: Traverse City, MI
Hobbies: Ceramics/pottery, Mountain biking, Paddle boarding, Hiking, Yoga
Personal/Community: Single, New Hope Church in Williamsburg, MI
Motto in life: Live intentionally with passion, purpose and gratitude.
Pulcipher grew up on a multi-generation cherry orchard in northern Michigan where she watched her grandparents and father operate the farm. Picking up roots and rocks, skimming tanks during harvest and stomping trees were all part of her childhood. The summer before she turned 16, she was promoted to drive the tractor during cherry harvest, hauling tanks back and forth from the field to the cooling pad. Pulcipher continued to work at the orchard every spring and summer throughout high school and college. After graduating from Michigan State University in 2012, she took a job with North Bay Produce as compliance coordinator. After a year, her attendance at the annual Food Safety Summit in Baltimore led her to an online master’s degree in food safety offered by Michigan State.
Upon graduation in 2017, she was able to expand her position at North Bay and quickly evolved to become the director of food safety and compliance. In this position, Pulcipher oversees every aspect of food safety and compliance in the company’s supply chain, both foreign and domestic, ensuring the supply chain is protected during the journey from farm to fork. Her oversight reaches all compli-ance programs, from the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) to Social Responsibility and supplier approval programs. She is certified in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), is a Foreign Supplier Verification Program qualified individual, a Produce Safety Alliance Trainer, and involved with the GLOBALG.A.P. National Technical Working Group for North America and the GLOBALG.A.P. Technical Committee for Fruits & Vegetables. She is an active participant of the United Fresh Produce Association Food Safety Council and graduate of the United Fresh Produce Association Leadership Program.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
That it is OK to not know everything, as we cannot be experts in all areas related to our field. I recently read an article that resonated with me, where a colleague was discussing the challenges produce safety professionals face, and the development of “super metrics” where food safety has now become a catch-all area (such as social responsibility, sustainability, COVID-19). We, as produce safety professionals, do not need to take on the world and bear the burden of that responsibility alone.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The most significant challenge I have faced in my career was leading the charge on a voluntary recall. You can never prepare enough for an event like that. Thankfully, no one became ill and the voluntary recall was concluded. However, the high-stress situation is one I will never forget, and there were many lessons that helped shaped my career to this day.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Networking is of utmost importance. Find mentors and surround yourself with positive people who will support your career and once able, always remember to give back in that same space and be a mentor to someone else who may be new to the industry.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
There are myriad issues facing the industry today and in the next decade: sustainability, climate change, disease resistance, threats to global trade, labor, increased demand using fewer resources, the ever-changing political landscape, foodborne pathogens, water usage, increased consumer transparency traceability and the recent pandemic, to name a few. Regardless of the issue, what is most important is that we continue to collaborate and work together as an industry. Our companies and business are more alike than we are different, and regardless of the sector or geographic region, we all face a lot of the same challenges and, therefore, we must take them on together.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I would like consumers to trust in science rather than social media, their friends or whatever is trending at the time. A lot of decisions in agriculture are made based on science and backed by research, and there are a lot of misconceptions in addition to scare tactics used to persuade consumers one way or the other.
Associate Marketing Manager
Naturipe Farms
Salinas, CA
Hometown: Santa Rosa, CA
Hobbies: Hiking, Baking, Traveling with her husband
Personal/Community: Married
Motto in life: Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.
After spending the first five years of her career in e-commerce marketing positions, Ritter’s career in produce began in 2013 when she moved to Monterey County to work with nonprofit Ag Against Hunger (AAH) in a community relations role. At AAH, she managed the volunteer gleaning program and was responsible for community outreach and communications. Through the collective efforts of volunteers and staff, they were able to glean a record 25,000 pounds of fresh produce (filling a 53-foot trailer). Additionally, Ritter co-managed the planning and execution of the annual Ag Woman of the Year luncheon fundraiser, which hosted nearly 300 attendees annually.
Through the connections she made in this industry-immersive position, in 2014 Ritter moved to the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California (GSA) as director of marketing and communications. During her two years at GSA, she managed the association’s trade show pavilion at the United Fresh Show and Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit. Ritter also co-managed a project to host university students from ag-focused schools and take them on field and facility tours throughout Monterey County, educating the students on the variety of career opportunities available in agriculture. She also produced GSA’s 85th anniversary video. Through the project, over a dozen industry veterans were interviewed.
Ritter’s produce career path eventually brought her to an opportunity with Naturipe Farms, where she has been working since 2016. One of her main responsibilities is to work collaboratively with other members of the marketing team, sales team and customers on shopper marketing activations, including in-store berry display contests with custom signage, geo-targeted ads on social media to help drive shoppers into nearby stores and e-commerce campaigns to increase online sales. She also manages the company’s participation in dozens of industry trade shows each year.
Ritter received her bachelor’s degree in business administration, with a concentration in marketing, from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She is an alumna of the Center for Growing Talent by PMA’s Emerging Leaders program (2019). She continues to serve on the Ag Woman of the Year fundraiser planning committee.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I knew anything about the produce industry when I started my career in it (other than the fact that I love fresh berries!). While we in produce are great at living our stories, we could do a better job at telling them. Something else I wish I knew at the beginning of my career is that it’s OK to fail, as long as you give it your all. While failures can be painful, they contribute to future successes.
Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
One of the most challenging things about working in produce is how product avail-ability can change in a heartbeat. You can spend months planning a marketing campaign around a projected peak harvest and have multiple activations in place to sell through high volumes, and in one fell swoop, Mother Nature can wipe out a crop. I learned early in my produce career that you have to be able to pivot your plans and strategies in an instant.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I can’t remember a prouder moment than when my boss let me know that she and the entire executive team had unanimously nominated me for the CGT by PMA Emerging Leaders Program (ELP). I was thrilled and validated that a group of people I highly respect had seen qualities in me that made them confident in my ability to thrive in the program. Completing the ELP program was a very proud moment for me, as well!
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
To put it bluntly, if someone is looking for a 9 to 5 job, this may not be the industry for them. When working with perishable products, there is always work to be done, even on evenings and weekends, so those new to the industry should be prepared for that. It’s also important to be flexible and adaptable. No two days in produce look the same, so be prepared to step outside of your normal duties and do whatever is needed. Last, and perhaps most important, build and maintain your network. Each person you meet is another opportunity to learn something and gain more experience. You cannot undervalue the network you build.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
It would be a game changer if consumers could walk in a farmer’s shoes for a day and really experience all the hard work that goes into growing fresh produce. I think this experience would go a long way in reinforcing to consumers the value of fresh produce and the vital role farmers play in our food system.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
When faced in the future with uncertain situations, I will think back on my experiences from the past year to remind myself that if I can make it through that, I can make it through anything.
Salesman
Bee Sweet Citrus Inc.
Fowler, CA
Hometown: Fresno, CA
Hobbies: Raising his kids with his wife, Coaching Little League
Personal/Community: Married, three children, Grace Church of the Valley member
Motto in life: Be on time and do things right.
Sadoian started working in the packing-house at Bee Sweet right out of college in fall of 2008 as a packinghouse supervisor to a production line. He then spent a few months in the shipping department, followed by a month in the field department before moving full time into sales in the summer of 2009. He has remained in the sales department since then, and has grown cases every year since 2009. Throughout his career, he has taken on increasing responsibility, and he currently works with company sales manager Joe Berberian and assists in crop planning, program planning, pricing and business development as well as many other tasks.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
When I finished college and realized professional baseball wasn’t in the cards, I came home and wanted a career where every day is different and where I could apply the lifelong lessons I learned. A family friend reached out to the Bee Sweet Citrus founder about a young guy looking for a produce job, and I was given an interview a few days later. I accepted the job the following week.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
That every day you come to work and talk on the phone, you’re forging long-lasting relationships. I’m proud to say I still talk to people who took my first calls 13 years ago.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Having to be on the phone all day, ether doing business or getting to know someone. As a student athlete, I was used to personal, face-to-face interactions. Once you develop more confidence in what you’re selling, the conversations get a little easier and more fluid. You can tell right away that this person is not interested or maybe this is a person that I could be selling to one day.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
That I’m able to get my work done effectively and still raise a family at home with my wife. Working 11- to 12-hour days can be a grind, but having the energy to do that every day, plus raise three little ones, is by far my greatest highlight.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
How much work goes into farming, packing, shipping and distribution. We have a deep appreciation for our growers and customers who want to showcase our fruit. Hopefully, we can get back out soon and walk through stores again to engage consumers about our industry and products.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
I would say technology has allowed us to be more streamlined, especially with electronic data interchange (EDI) versus the days of fax machines. Also, having the ability to access your network via a mobile device has changed the landscape, as well; you can be as efficient (if not more) out of the office or on the road.
Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
Continue selling and developing the business — it’s a lifelong profession.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Going through this past season made me realize how important fresh produce is to the nation and world, and made me more grateful to be working where I do. It’s an amazing industry; the future looks bright!
Director of Produce
Sysco Corp.
Houston, TX
Hometown: Salinas, CA
Hobbies: Music, Time with friends and family, Involvement in her children’s sports
Personal/Community: Married, two children
Motto in life: Always deliver more than expected.
Santiago started her career in 2007 at Markon as a coordinator, learning the business from the bottom up. During that time, she was exposed to procurement as well as customer service. After five years and various positions with Markon, she accepted a role in sales at Rocket Farms, working as a junior sales associate for its floral division. Santiago gained experience managing a budget, product development, costing structures and product distribution with large retail chains.
In 2016, she joined Sysco in the role of merchandising manager, overseeing a team of produce account managers. In addition to leading this team, she was responsible for procuring produce for Sysco US Broadline, Freshpoint and Canadian operating companies. In October 2018, she was promoted to director of produce. In this role, she took on additional responsibilities, including on-boarding new acquisitions, managing personnel in multiple departments and working with suppliers and customers to streamline processes and gain efficiencies.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
One thing I love about what I do: No day is ever the same and the challenges are always new. I would love to be able to go back and tell myself: Don’t take anything personally; listen more; there is a lesson in everything you do; and write it all down, you’re going to need your notes.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Growing regions and transitions, with all the items from West Coast vegetables, potatoes, onions and warm vegetables and keeping up with how often we move or where to get the best supply and when. I used to have a map on my desk and would use it constantly to keep up with moving product from coast to coast.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the work I have done over the last five years at Sysco. Our Sysco team is one of the best groups I have ever been a part of, and together we collaborate to provide the absolute best for our customers. I look forward to continuing my career with Sysco, as the growth opportunities are endless with such a great company. I am proud to be able to show up every day and give it my all. I enjoy leading my team, when they come to me with a situation and I can guide them through it. It’s really rewarding.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Relationships are key; get out there and make contacts. Find a mentor and learn everything you can.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Labor, costs of goods and transportation are three things I believe the industry will be challenged to address in the next decade. We depend on labor to show up to harvest, and it is getting more and more expensive, which increases the costs of goods. And the trucking market has also seen increases over the past few years. It all stems from labor, whether it’s drivers or workers in the fields. It’s going to take innovation across the industry to collaborate and come up with better solutions to distribute products to distribution centers and end users.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
In these demanding times, we find ourselves transitioning towards more e-commerce solutions to serve the industry.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
I never thought I would live through a pandemic. I am thankful that my family has been healthy and hope we can get this virus under control with vaccines. My husband works in a hospital, so it’s been me and my two kids at home since March of 2020. I have learned to appreciate down time, be patient and roll with the punches.
Senior Director Foodservice Sales
Tanimura & Antle
Salinas, CA
Hometown: Pacific Grove, CA
Hobbies: Bike riding (road and mountain), Hiking, Golf, Softball, Wine tasting
Personal/Community: Tour de Fresh, Ag Against Hunger, California Women in Ag
Motto in life: “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Schuck’s first position in the produce industry was as an intern at Driscoll’s for the spring/summer of 2004, while attending California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. After graduating in 2005, she was hired as a Walmart replenishment analyst at Tanimura & Antle. While on the Walmart team, Schuck learned about the retail space, the demand trends and transportation. In 2008, she was promoted to be the account manager for the Sysco account. The company was selling about 20,000 cases a week with Sysco at that time. In 2009, Sysco decided to move its business to a contracted price deal as opposed to weekly pricing and Schuck assisted in nego-tiating the contract. By 2011, the company grew its business with Sysco to 100,000 cases per week, and in 2012, the company was named as a Silver Supplier of the Year and has since been Sysco’s largest western vegetable commodity shipper.
In 2016, she was promoted to director of foodservice for Tanimura & Antle, overseeing a team of five people. In 2017, Schuck was promoted to senior director of foodservice, continuing to oversee the team and business. Since 2017, she has expanded her scope of business and now oversees a new business sector in Amazon Fresh.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
It’s going to be a bumpy ride. There will be both successes, failures, happy and sad times. It’s the failures you learn from, as Rick Antle always said, if you “fail forward.” The sad times make you stronger and the successful and happy times make it all worthwhile.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Having to be the bearer of bad news or not being perfect. Telling customers when we were short on product or that I couldn’t come through with a request. I always wanted to be the best and the epitome of customer service, so when I couldn’t do that, it would wear on me. I’ve since learned it’s all a part of customer service. While we will never always be perfect, make sure you are communicating, even with the hard conversations, and that’s what it means to be good at customer service.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Being promoted to director was a great accomplishment for me. I really enjoy working with peers and leading by example.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Be humble, willing to learn and observe. So many things I’ve learned over the years have come from sitting back, listening and observing, then taking those little tidbits and using them to create my own style of doing things.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Unfortunately, I see labor continuing to be a major issue. An aging workforce is the biggest factor, but if you combine this issue with the lingering effects of the pandemic, our labor issues are not going away anytime in the near future.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The industry is a lot more technologically advanced. It wasn’t long after I started in the industry that we had the first major spinach outbreak, the beginning of a whole new era in the industry. Now we have Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) stickers that can give me all the information about that one box in a quick glance. From PTIs to Plant Tape to even new ways of ordering on Itrade and EDI, we have moved from manual processes to more efficient and technology-based ways of doing things.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Take nothing for granted. Appreciate what you have — even the littlest things.
Sales Manager, Retail & Wholesale
Four Seasons Produce Inc.
Ephrata, PA
Hometown: Ephrata, PA
Hobbies: Cooking, Baking, Planting flowers, Watching baseball, The beach
Personal/Community: Married, two chil-dren, Petra Church, Mentor for the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Young Women Discovering Paths program
Motto in life: Life is not about obtaining perfection; it is about positive direction.
Sensenig started her journey with Four Seasons Produce in July 2002 and has held numerous positions within the company since that time. In the first six years of her employment, she worked as a third-party logistics coordinator, warehouse controller, sales support and quality control adminis-trative assistant before settling back into the sales support role again in 2008. In 2010, she was promoted to a retail sales representative in the sales floater role before gaining her own retail accounts in 2011. She worked with independent retail stores, natural food stores and co-ops during her time as a retail sales representative.
In 2015, she was given the opportunity to transition to the wholesale sales team to work on expanding organic programs for the company’s chain customers as well as working with its packing and procurement teams on an inhouse line of Spring Leaf packaged organic offerings. In 2018, Sensenig transitioned to the role of wholesale sales manager and in May 2020, was given the opportunity to also lead the retail sales team under her current title.
Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
I work for a produce wholesaler, and we have 2,000-plus SKUs. Understanding seasonality, variety, labels, counts, etc., was the most challenging part to learn.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Relationships are of the upmost importance. If you are parting ways with a customer or vendor, make sure to do it on good terms. Most people resurface within the industry, and when that person lands at their next employment spot, it may be the account you are looking to gain.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
One of the biggest issues right now, and one that will continue for the next decade, is the labor force, and the lack thereof. It is extremely difficult to gain and retain labor for critical jobs such as warehouse, packers and drivers within the industry.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I would like consumers to know how strict food safety measures and traceability are within the produce industry. There is a lot of resources committed to making sure the products are safe to consume.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The demand for convenience has been interesting to follow. E-commerce has exploded during my 19 years in the industry. The mindset of being able to have everything you need in minimal time with the click of a button has changed how our industry is adapting to the factor of convenience for consumers. The innovation around convenience for consumers through the e-commerce channel has been fast-paced and continues to keep us all on our toes.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
Wow, this past year has had so many ups and downs. A common theme that comes to mind when reflecting on the last year is flexibility. Both personally and professionally, we made so many changes so quickly. Going from offense, to defense, back to offense seemed to happen at times with the snap of a finger. I was in some challenging situations where flexibility was needed, and I feel good about being able to work through those challenges and gain a tool for future situations.
Marketing Representative
Starr Ranch Growers
Wenatchee, WA
Hometown: Haskins, OH
Hobbies: Hiking, Biking, Video games, Rock climbing
Personal/Community: Married, four children, WTA trails volunteering
Motto in life: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”
Upon graduation from college, Shammo started working in the stores for The Kroger Co. as a store co-manager. From there, he was promoted through various positions in advertising, ad layout, graphic design, produce replenishment, produce analyst and finally procurement. In all those positions, he worked on talented teams with specific projects, including store remodels, transitions and merging of new banners under Kroger. He led a team of quality assurance employees to develop a way to grade all Kroger’s suppliers to increase the quality of the products provided to customers. He also led change as a buyer for potatoes, onions, eastern vegetables, berries, apples, cherries and pears for the entire Kroger company of 3,400 plus stores.
In May 2018, he joined Starr Ranch Growers as a national marketing representative. Since then, he has helped Starr Ranch with multiple projects, including social media campaigns and the rebranding of the company as well as building a strong customer base.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I grew up on a large farm in rural Ohio where we farmed corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa. Since then, it has been a continuation of produce positions that culminated in being a procurement manager of many different commodities at Kroger.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I had known just how many produce items there are in the world. It feels like every time you thought you had a handle on what you were buying, a new variety of something you never heard of bursts into the market.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The seasonality and gaps in some commodities, when the previous year there had no issues, was a challenge. There is always something new happening every day, and your ability to adapt is important no matter what commodity you handle.
Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would like to see us as an apple industry find a better way to explain all of our new varieties to customers. We have better-tasting apples than our grandparents got to enjoy, but have a hard time conveying that to customers.
Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
As you can see from produce sales throughout the U.S., I think we are doing a pretty good job overall. The move to organics is helping speak directly to customers, and building on that with top quality produce should keep moving that needle in the right direction.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Food deserts and supplying a growing population across the globe. It seems like there are more and more farmers selling land to build residential housing, and those acres won’t ever come back for farming uses. Technology and innovation will be key to feeding the entire world.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
We have an ever-changing industry that will keep you on your toes. Trying new fruits and veggies is a great way to find some of your new favorite foods. There are a lot of ugly produce items out there, but many of them taste amazing.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The time has been filled with new opportunities in finding ways to connect with consumers who are mostly working from home and buying a lot of their produce from online portals. I believe a lot of the trends will stick, and we, as a commodity, will be better off in the long term with the increased demand and new packaging styles.
Chief Operations Officer
La Galera Produce and LGX Logistics
Chicago
Hometown: Northlake, Illinois
Hobbies: Watching her boys play baseball and football, Reading, Skiing.
Personal/Community: Married, 3 boys.
Motto in life: You get what you work for, not what you wish for.
As a leading woman in the produce industry, Vega has made her mark through La Galera — one of Chicago’s fastest growing Latino-owned companies. Her leadership and strategic planning have been the catalyst for change both in the workplace and in the community where she is committed to helping the fight against hunger. Vega has been an owner of La Galera since Day One when the company started as a rented room in a warehouse at the Chicago International Produce Market in 2004. She began managing the accounts receivable and accounts payable from her kitchen table. In 2005, Vega took on the role of office manager and spent the next 12 years investing her time and efforts into growing La Galera into a strong produce powerhouse. In 2017, she took the position of chief operations officer and has continued to work to strengthen and expand the company. Under her influence, the company now owns multiple units in the Chicago International Produce Market and successfully services all of Illinois and the Midwest.
In 2016, Vega realized the need for better control of logistics and the timely arrival of the company’s produce. With her customers’ needs at the forefront, she worked to open up a logistics company, LGX logistics. Vega has also made it La Galera’s team goal to buy food from customers and, on a monthly basis, deliver food, fruit and water to those in need. Even before the pandemic, she was reaching out to a community of homeless people within a mile of the Chicago Produce Market.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My husband is third generation working in the produce industry. I became involved in this industry by mere chance. When we opened La Galera in 2004, I was handed the challenge, and I embraced it. I made it my own endeavor that I would ultimately conquer.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I could tell myself to take the chance, be confident and be fearless. Mistakes will happen, it’s inevitable, but being willing to accept that as part of the process and learning from every mistake will set you apart from the rest. It’s also critical to have a good soundboard or mentor. If you don’t have one, then be one for someone else. You’d be surprised how much you can learn and the different perspectives you can find just by bouncing ideas off of one another.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Changing and challenging market culture and establishing a name for myself was a struggle in and of itself. This is a male-dominated industry, so getting my colleagues to acknowledge what I can bring to the table and actually have them listen has been an arduous task. All my ideas have been met with some sort of hesitation, so I have had to prove myself time and time again.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
I would tell them to be confident in decisions. If your vision doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough. This industry can be intimidating, and you’ll need thick skin, but your setbacks will teach you how to come back stronger.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
COVID-19 has given us insight into how buying will look in the future. This pandemic spotlighted industry resiliency rising to meet increasingly high expectations, but it also has shown us the importance of changing technology. Soon, shopping at produce markets will be a thing of the past; online wholesale purchasing will trend and grocery delivery services will be the new normal. It will be up to wholesalers to keep up with the more efficient and fast-track processes.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
My priority was ensuring my employees had all the tools to do their work and be safe at the same time. I was also concerned about the future of my employees, as I wasn’t sure exactly how COVID would affect us. The pandemic brought out the worst at times and the best in us, as the country counted on us to stay supplied.
General Manager
Organics Unlimited
San Diego
Hometown: San Diego
Hobbies: Painting and sketching, Reading, Hiking, Camping, Healthy eating and cooking, Coffee
Personal/Community: Married; member of Vistage International and its Family Business and Women in Leadership groups
Motto in life: Follow my heart. I don’t know where my path is going to take me, but I trust the process of following opportunities along the way.
As a fourth-generation member of Organics Unlimited, America’s largest family-owned organic banana wholesaler, Velazquez de León successfully wears many hats. From managing logistics operations to leading marketing and sustainability initiatives, she plays a vitally important role in building healthier communities by helping supply the freshest, sustainable, organic bananas while giving back through the company’s GROW social responsibility program. Velazquez de León has taken the lead role in expanding the GROW initiative by educating consumers and trade customers to the benefits of the program, which currently constitutes 90% of company sales through its GROW label bananas.
Using her bilingual skills, Velazquez de León has actively guided the company’s multinational business relationships, given the importance of logistics with Mexico and Ecuador, as well as West Coast operations in the United States, Canada and Japan. She helped deploy funds from the company’s Disaster Relief GROW Sub-fund, designed for situations such as the current COVID-19 global pandemic. The financial support helped to source additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and respirators for clinic providers to the uninsured and also support the San Diego Worker Assistance Initiative, which provides flexible resources to individuals impacted by layoffs and reduced working hours.
Prior to joining the produce industry, Velazquez de León spent seven years in the world of ad tech where she worked through the early days of Facebook advertising and went on to launch the Pinterest and Snapchat digital advertising channels at a leading independent advertising platform. While there, she led teams of media managers delivering advertising budgets for Fortune 500 companies and led the Super Bowl LII digital campaign for a leading food manufacturing company.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
One of the first areas of focus for me was logistics, and it was much more challenging than I ever realized. We have very perishable products coming from another country, so the logistics issue has to include so much of what keeps our produce in premium condition when it arrives at our retailers’ markets. The coordination, shipping aspects and working with importation were all things that were new to me, but an integral link between production and marketing.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Fair pricing for produce, especially organics, is a critically important issue, because there’s significant pressure from the multinationals and directly from retail to keep prices low to meet consumer expectations of a low-cost commodity. Costs are high for certifications needed for organic production, along with rising labor and input costs. Growers have such thin margins that smaller organic growers are being priced out of the business. The retail community can help by being willing to sell bananas at fair prices rather than perpetuating the notion in consumers’ minds that less than 90 cents a pound is providing a fair price for growers.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
There’s an expectation by consumers that brands they support through their produce purchases are delivering more than lip service when it comes social responsibility. Conscious capitalism is the name of the game now and, thankfully, more produce companies understand this, which has been a positive change during my tenure in the industry.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
The COVID-19 global pandemic has increased awareness about the importance of nutrition for health as well as the importance of a decentralized local food system. Organic produce such as our Organics Unlimited bananas provide a healthy, reliable option for consumers who’ve reassessed the quality of food they put in their bodies to live a healthier lifestyle. We know that fresh organic produce remains in high demand during the COVID-19 era as sales numbers prove.
Manager, Nutrition Communications
The Wonderful Co.
Los Angeles
Hometown: Chicago
Hobbies: Beach volleyball, Cycling, Mountain biking, Rock climbing, Cross-country skiing, Oenology
Personal/Community: Essentially married, Rapha Cycling Club
Motto in life: Yes. (I’m a yes-person, always up for anything.)
A registered dietitian nutritionist with interests in consumer behavior and motivation and expertise in individual nutrition, public health, business and public relations, Wilk has led nutrition communications for food, health and wellness companies for nearly a decade. As manager of nutrition communications at The Wonderful Co., she manages domestic nutrition communications programs on behalf of healthy produce brands Wonderful Pistachios, POM Wonderful and Wonderful Halos. At Wonderful, she continues her efforts to spread nutritional knowledge and rectify misconceptions about what constitutes a healthy diet.
Prior to The Wonderful Co., Wilk served as communications marketing and PR manager for Pre Brands, a Chicago-based premium fresh foods startup. She was also a nutrition consultant and senior account executive at Edelman, where she worked with a range of commodity and industry association groups as well as consumer package goods and other companies, including Barilla, and Bush’s Beans. Part of Edelman’s Global Food Sector, Wilk delivered internal nutrition counsel and led food and nutrition environment awareness through her role as lead editor of the Food Bites newsletter. She has also contributed to various wellness and lifestyle outlets publications.
Wilk holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University and a master’s in nutrition from Boston University, and she completed her dietetic internship at Boston Medical Center.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
The importance of every experience. Especially early in my career, I was always eager to get to the next step. But I now see the value of all of my career steps, and each role — including those outside of produce — taught me important lessons and made me the professional I am today.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
Trained as a dietitian, I’m acutely aware of the relationship between the end consumer and the end product, but learning more about the farmers and growers who make that end product possible was a fundamental first step to finding success in the produce industry.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Get to know the full lifecycle of the food you work with, from growers, their farms and their families, to the consumers, their drivers and motivations. Whether you’re in operations, marketing, sales or elsewhere, knowing the full life cycle of the product and understanding the industry players will make you a savvier and more strategic team player.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
First and foremost, we are a growing global population with limited resources. Second, consumers care — and they’re not afraid to speak their minds through their purchasing decisions. It’s important to know where you and your products stand in taste and nutrition but also in water use, carbon footprint and more, to be able to proactively address these hot topics.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
I thrive on new sights, experiences and people. I always have. This past year gave me an important reminder to also nourish, treasure and thrive in the familiar. I look forward to a future with both.
Director, Growth & Strategy
The Ruby Co.
Buffalo Grove, IL
Hometown: Detroit
Hobbies: Food, Wine, Travel, Cycling, Cooking, Working out
Personal/Community: Significant other, Chicago Food Depository, Step Up for Kids in support of Lurie’s Children Hospital
Motto in life: “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
As director of growth and strategy, Wolff is responsible for corporate strategy formulation and execution across various areas of the business including retail, foodservice and other sectors. Primary practice areas include forming new business and strategic partnerships, corporate marketing, business development and operations. In parallel, he also oversees Ruby’s’ freight division: Deploy Solutions Group, a fast-growing third party logistics company headquartered out of Chicago.
Wolff joined The Ruby Co. from Lamb Weston, the largest manufacturer of frozen potatoes in North America, where he led category leadership planning with strategic customers, strategy development and execution. He graduated from the Eli Broad School of Business at Michigan State University.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I was standing in line at bar at a wedding in Michigan, and I started a conversation with a guy next to me, who happened to be David Cohen, now our president and chief executive. We were two guys standing at a bar, both in the potato business. What are the chances? Over the course of the next eight to 10 months, David and I had continued discussions. Early on, David introduced me to his partner and lifetime friend Jeff Weisman. Jeff and David provided insight into Ruby and the change in ownership/leadership on the horizon. It was a time to help build and redefine a company that had a tremendous legacy and foundation. Having worked in either publicly traded companies or those with large corporate structures, I was ready for a change and prepared to help make a real impact. The business needs aligned well with my skill set and knowledge base. The rest was history.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am tremendously proud of the progress we, as a business, have made over the past few years. Ruby has seen exponential growth year over year as a result of expanding into new markets, sectors, commodity offerings and strategic ventures. While I have played a key role in the process, it’s been an incredible team feat. From executing a full rebrand, to implementing new processes, securing new business partnerships, diversification efforts and starting a logistics company — needless to say, the past few months have been a crazy ride!
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
While produce is often seen as a “category” within much larger industries such a foodservice and retail, there is truly nothing comparable to it. The business beats to a different drum, and depending on the facet, roles often require a unique mindset and tremendous desire to learn. Therefore, my very candid advice to someone entering the space would be to stay motivated, focused, organized, nimble and most importantly, humble.
Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The produce business is constantly evolving as result of new or developing consumer, menu and supply chain trends. Over the past few years, I have witnessed and experienced a shift within each of those defined buckets. In consumer: I have seen a major shift to plant-based eating. Not just plant-based proteins, but American diets in general are evolving to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables. In menus: the produce supply chain is often changing as a result of global food and beverage trends. That can be driven by a concept, commodity or both. For example, we have all seen the resurgence of vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Similarly, throughout COVID, we have supported a tremendous increase in demand for heartier items such as potatoes and onions. In supply chains: Food safety and traceability trends continue to increase, and consumers as well as commercials purchasers are demanding greater transparency. This is not just as it pertains to new food safety requirements or technological advancements, it’s making sure products are grown, harvested and packed in sustainable and environmentally friendly manners.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
I believe we as an industry could see residual effects as a result of COVID for quite some time. Residual effects could consist of elevated freight markets and truck capacity, labor challenges, and unexpected supply surges as varying geographic markets continue to open across the country. That said, we experienced a record 2020 year and look forward to further developing areas of the business that were born as a result of COVID-19, while in parallel rebuilding areas that are still in recovery.
Director, Market Research
 and Category Management
Litehouse
Sandpoint, ID
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA
Hobbies: Fly fishing, Whitewater rafting, Hunting
Personal/Community: Married, two chil-dren, Leader in local Cub Scouts, Youth soccer coach, Active leader in community church.
Motto in life: “If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re doing something wrong.” — John Gierach
Woodbridge started his career in brand management with Harry & David, working on the Fruit Brand Team, with a focus on marketing efforts for the company’s heritage product, gourmet fruit. In this position, he developed a plan for alternative selling channels, leading to $25 million in incremental sales. Based on this perfomance and his strategic use of insights to drive growth, he was offered a leadership position, manager of merchandising analytics and consumer insights. In this leadership role, Woodbridge led a team dedicated to understanding consumer behavior, attitudes, and trends, in an effort to develop products and marketing efforts around these insights.
In 2013, Woodbridge relocated to Sandpoint, ID, and after working as a retail category manager for a regional lifestyle company, took a position with Litehouse in 2015. At Litehouse, his team has increased the volume of support to customers by over 400%, demonstrating the value that customers see in working with the Litehouse market research/category team. This has resulted in his team serving in a formal category adviser role for top U.S. retailers, with dedicated resources to support their category management. He has also modernized the insights process at Litehouse, bringing technology solutions from point-of-sale providers as well as modern consumer panel strategies, to better inform and drive sales for Litehouse and its industry partners.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
The time between consumer trends would shrink dramatically. The newest health trend, diet fad, label requirement or food category takes off faster than ever, which means investing in a category/claim/flavor and expecting it to maintain growth is riskier now than it was five years ago, as a higher percentage of new products fail today than ever before. Investing in modern consumer insights, from longitudinal attitude and usages to ultra-specific market-based innovation strategy evaluation, will inform organizations of these changes faster than relying solely on traditional insights tied to focus groups and product sales performances.
Q: As a young professional, what aspect of the business most challenged you?
The lack of insights available in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) retail world at a consumer level when compared to B2C businesses. Starting my career in food/produce through B2C, I was accustomed to the wealth of consumer information available simply from interacting and transacting with consumers. The produce industry, as well as most of grocery, requires a different kind of investment and focus to gain insight into true consumer insights (moving beyond just whether sales are up or down, but into why consumer thoughts and beliefs are driving those changes). Making that transition into produce meant finding new ways to gain these insights.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
In building my team from three to five people during my time at Litehouse, we’ve been able to increase our productivity by over 400%. Everyone I’m blessed to have working on my team has grown their own skill sets, expanded their understanding regarding best-in-class practices related to data analytics and provided the insights that industry partners seek. This has led to Litehouse capturing number one market share position of the refrigerated salad dressing category in the total U.S. multi-outlet market, and the growth of Litehouse market share by 17% in the four years I’ve been at Litehouse.
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
With the produce department uniquely set up to attract health-minded consumers who are driving much of these changes in retail, using consumer insights and performance metrics to better allocate space and increase overall footprint as a percentage of the store will increase the future potential for everyone involved, retailers to manufacturers.
Q: How has the past year changed your life and your future outlook?
I think the future will see retail gradually slow down from the weekly volumes we’ve seen for the past 14 months, but I believe the next review philosophy will be in focused growth contribution evaluation, not just volume. Making sure that items not contributing to new sales are weeded out to make room for incremental sales will be a focus as retailers look to gain back some of the eroded COVID demand.
North American Category Manager,
 Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
Gordon Food Service
Wyoming, MI
Hometown: South Haven, MI
Hobbies: Working out, Cooking, Spending time with friends and family
Personal/Community: Two children
Motto in life: Be kind. Always. You never know what someone is going through.
Zavala found her passion for the foodservice and hospitality industry at age 15, working as a server assistant at a local family-owned restaurant. She continued to work as an operator all through college, graduating from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Upon graduation, she continued to work as an operator with Applebee’s and was promoted to general manager two years later, becoming one of the youngest general managers with the company. Four years after graduating from college, Zavala began teaching as an adjunct professor, facilitating hospitality courses at Central Michigan University.
In 2009, she transitioned her career to the distribution side of the industry, working with Gordon Food Service where she has been focused on fresh fruit and vegetables for the past 10 years. Zavala earned the prestigious Gold Club award while supporting Gordon Food Service Stores for her work, increasing produce penetration rate and launching a direct store delivery produce program. She was promoted to her current position as North American category manager where she supports Gordon Food Service divisions in Canada and the U.S. In her role, she works closely with both the Gordon Food Service and Markon Cooperative teams to bring fresh produce from farm to fork.
Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Growing up in southwest Michigan, I have always been attracted to the produce industry. Summers were filled with strawberry and blueberry picking and the fall season with apple orchard trips. I had a summer job opportunity at Michigan Blueberry Growers (MBG) Marketing where, on my lunch breaks, I would watch growers bring their berries to be aggregated and sent out to market. On my way home, I would drive by the fields and see where the field workers were living and see their kids outside playing. The entire process and economics of bringing crops from field to consumer was very intriguing to me.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I truly appreciate and value the time I am able to spend with my superiors and actively listen — not only listening to their experience and knowledge of the category, but also their opinions on leadership and career advice. I push myself to engage in, at times, uncomfortable situations if it allows me to learn and grow; I wish I would have done that earlier in my career.
Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
What I am most proud of is the work I have done with our greater teams in regard to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). I was a Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) scholarship winner in 2019 where I had the honor of representing Gordon Food Service at the event, and I then had the responsibility to bring back what I had learned and share and grow our teams. I have really embraced and advocated for women’s needs at work, as well as challenging our teams to learn, grow and discuss a variety of DEI topics for the betterment of the team members individually as well as the company as a whole.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
I would encourage someone who is new to the produce industry to find a mentor. There are so many folks with an incredible breadth of knowledge who are willing to share and help. There is a strong desire from many of these individuals to help cultivate the next generation of produce professionals. Find a mentor and listen!
Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Food safety is top of mind for many consumers heightened by recent outbreaks and distribution of lists such as “dirty dozen.” We have to work to improve food safety practices, including traceability, but also to communicate what is being done to keep consumers safe.
Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
We would have less food waste and more consumption if consumers better understood the produce industry. If consumers looked at their fresh produce items and knew all the effort that was put into getting that item to their home or to their favorite restaurant, they would realize the value and consume more and waste less.








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Our piece,  Triumph In New York, celebrated the success of the The New York Produce Show and Conference. In doing so, we acknowledged that, with a legal requirement for COVID… […]
We announced the Thought Leader Panel at the recently completed edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference with this piece: As the Industry Transitions from The Great Collaboration to The Great… […]
We ran a piece titled, Up On The Roof: An Urban Farm Right Above The New York Produce Show And Conference, which highlighted the fact that The New York Produce Show and… […]
John Bovay has become a fixture at The New York Produce Show and Conference presenting many thoughtful pieces, a few of which we have profiled here: NYPS Veteran Professor, John… […]
Cutting Edge Chefs and Food + Hospitality + Supply Chains + Storytelling =  Brave New World of Food Delivery There’s no denying we’re continuing a new era of food delivery,… […]
Once again, participants in the New York Produce Show and Conference had an opportunity to go on many regional tours, including an official post-show tour of several retail markets in… […]
Lab-grown fish, crustacean, and mollusk products aren’t in stores or restaurants yet, but several companies say they are getting closer to commercial sales. … Continue reading: Cell-Based Seafood is Catching On. […]
West Coast growers have endured a tough couple of years as the COVID-19 pandemic dried up demand from restaurants and international markets, and extreme temperatures in June cooked countless beach-grown oysters and clams alive in their shells. … Continue reading: B.C. Shellfish Growers Experiencing A Watershed Moment. […]
Cooks Venture, an independent poultry genetics company, emerging into a market where consumers are demanding better quality meat, announced today the securing of $50 million in funding from insured technology financing pioneer, PIUS. Cooks Venture is also the largest pasture-raised poultry company in America committed to regenerative agricultural practices and the only poultry company integrated into their own breeding line. … Continue reading: Cooks Venture Announces $50M Secured From PIUS. […]
TMRW Foods, the plant-based food innovation company, announced today their upcoming launch with two national grocery retailers Loblaws and Walmart. The partnership will see TMRW’s products available in 552 Loblaws and 232 Walmart stores across Canada. With this commitment, TMRW is set to gain 1900+ incremental distribution points, and will now be available in more than 1,000 stores in Canada. … Continue reading: Plant-Based Food Innovation Company TMRW Foods to Launch in Loblaws and Walmart. […]
After more than a year of pandemic-induced virtual trade shows, the 2022 Tropical Plant International Expo (TPIE) took place live and in person – to much fanfare and attendance. … Continue reading: Tropical Plant International Expo 2022 Attracts Thousands for Tampa Debut. […]
Sahid Nahim of New Bloom Solutions (NBS) and David Kaplan of Above All Flowers (AAF) have partnered with several floral industry experts to bring the industry together and highlight the importance of collaboration. … Continue reading: Bloom Together WFFSA Afterparty: A Collaborative Floral Industry Event. […]
The high rate of inflation has become a major talking point over the last few months, with the prices of goods and services rising rapidly in major global economies. The Grape Reporter spoke with two experts from the US and the UK to get their views on how this could impact table grape sales in […] The post How high inflation might impact table grape markets appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
Freshfel Europe pressed European Union authorities to support the fresh produce sector because of continued restrictions resulting from the Belarus embargo. The embargo began at the beginning of the year, with at much as 500,000 tonnes of exports being compromised, including 300,000 from Poland, and between 10,000 to 60,000 tonnes from Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, […] The post Freshfel Europe asks for support for produce industry over Belarus embargo appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
Global marketer and seller Vanguard International reports that the apple and pear crops look to be strong as the South Africa season gets underway. Bon Chretien Rosemarie, and Flamingo pears kicked off this year’s start three weeks ago and there is great optimism following a second consecutive great winter with water reserves being replenished. This […] The post South Africa pear and apple exports looking strong this season appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
Waitrose will be introducing fast delivery service Deliveroo Hop in some of its stores during a trial beginning later this month. The retailer already has a shared partnership with Deliveroo that began in September and does feature on-demand grocery service but could halve the time to get items to customers, arriving in as little as […] The post Waitrose launches trial with Deliveroo’s Hop for quicker home delivery appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
The words, “You have been tested positive for the COVID virus,” still ring in my ears… Thursday 25/11/2022, 23h59. I board flight KL0592 from Johannesburg, South Africa, to travel back to my home in The Hague, The Netherlands. I have just spent 4 amazing days in and around South Africa’s Kruger Park, where my team and […] The post European Market: Turning Isolation Into a Positive Journey appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
Read the corresponding Research Perspective article Tell your authentic story and you will build brand love The idea that consumers will pay a premium for the branded produce they love is a break-through, but the research also shows that few consumers really connect with many produce brands. It is almost as if consumers yearn for a […] The post Research Perspective: Many Questions Remain About Branded Produce appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
As part of the 12-step Levelling Up plan by the UK government to improve underserved communities and the nation as a whole, general practitioners will be able to grants food vouchers for fruits and vegetables in some communities during a three-year trial called Community Eatwell. The strategy, which has worked with great success in one […] The post UK government will trial vouchers for fruits, vegetables given by general practitioners appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
Aldi UK officials say that plant-based item sales rose by 500% during the last month, affectionately known as Veganuary, as healthy eating trends continue two years after the start of the pandemic. Because of the increase in demand and a 250% boon in plant-based sales during 2021, Aldi stepped up its range of products by […] The post Retail roundup: Aldi sees huge spike in vegan sales; Sainsbury’s increases Hub appeared first on Produce Business UK. […]
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