2020 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Christopher Holden

Age: 35
Director of Sales – Northeast
San Antonio, TX

Holden began his career in August of 2006 at the Great A&P corporate headquarters as a clerk and was quickly promoted to buyer in the grocery department. At age 23, he was promoted to category manager in grocery in the non-perishable division and proceeded to move through several grocery departments as category manager. He was given the opportunity to move to the produce department as a category manager in 2011. After a couple of years in produce, he was offered a regional sales manager position at Fresh Express managing the Metro New York market. He spent three-and-a-half years there, growing the Fresh Express share of the salad category at key accounts. Holden was approached in 2015 by NatureSweet and asked to join its sales team as a division manager covering the Northeast region and working from Montvale, NJ. In his three plus years with the company, he has expanded distribution extensively across the region. With continued support from current and new customers along the East Coast, he has been able to foster new partnerships throughout the region.

Hobbies: Golf, Adventures with his kids, Projects around the house, Cheering all Philadelphia sports

Personal/Community: Married, 3 children

Motto in life: “Work hard and good things will come.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I was getting burnt out by the long hours required of a category manager, but the move to perishables introduced me to the community that exists only in produce. Each day presented new challenges that require you to think on your feet, make a decision and learn from the consequences. Our team at the time made the everyday grind fun, which was something that was missing at that point in my career. I was hooked on produce.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Reduction in food and packaging waste. In the U.S. the amount of good food we waste for myriad of reasons is completely unacceptable. It is by no means one person’s fault, but it is all our responsibility.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Work collaboratively across brands/categories to present meal solutions with produce as the lead. Most brands are trying to get into the perimeter, so leverage the high traffic produce aisle to create easy meal solutions for consumers.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Recyclable plastic single use packaging. We have become too reliant on plastic and it has only started to catch up to us. I believe, as an industry at large, we will need to figure out a better way to protect and maintain freshness on both perishable and shelf stable products without filling our garbage dumps with non-biodegradable material.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the produce industry by the public at large?
Food Safety, although there is always room for improvement. I think the news media can over embellish an issue during a slow news cycle to create the appearance of a larger problem.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Selfishly, I would like them to have a better understanding of the costs and labors of getting fresh produce on their shelves, from the purchasing of specific seeds, the grafting processes, technologies in greenhouses, labor needed to pick fruit, freight to get it there. Like any industry, there are many unsung heroes that go unrecognized throughout the process. For many this is truly a labor of love.