2020 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Michael Brown

Age: 39
Director, Category
Management – Produce
Sysco Corporation
Houston, TX

Brown started in the industry in 2009, when he joined Sysco West Texas as a marketing associate, selling produce as one of 12 broadline categories. In 2011, he was transferred to FreshPoint Dallas, initially starting as a sales associate for the Produce Redistribution Center (PRDC) and advancing to PRDC sales manager in 2013. In 2015, Brown was asked to again return to Sysco in a hybrid role as director of produce. In this role, he was responsible for finalizing the company’s fold-in of FreshPoint Arizona into the Sysco Arizona Produce Operation. Brown oversaw produce sales, procurement, and operations for the combined operation for three years, receiving a number of corporate and customer awards for excellence. In 2018, Brown was promoted to produce market director-pacific where he provided leadership and support to produce category managers and planners in each of the Market’s 14 operating companies. Under his leadership the Market excelled, winning Market of the Year following his first full year in the position. This April, Brown began a new position with the company as director of category management for produce. In this national role working from the Sysco Los Angeles-Market offices, Brown is tasked with managing category assortment and vendor compliance, developing marketing and promotional opportunities, and enhancing supplier relations through innovation, sales growth, and issue resolution.

Hobbies: BBQ, Visiting National Parks with family

Personal/Community: Married, two sons

Motto in life: “If you are not having fun, why bother? Go home, regroup, and come back when you’re ready to enjoy life.”

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
For me, the most challenging aspect of our business early on was trying to understand all the small pieces that fit into the big picture. There are so many commodities that make up our industry, each following its own markets and each dealing with its own challenges and nuances. One of my first roles in produce was essentially to be a “produce expert,” and to help broadline sales reps to sell the category. As I was still learning myself, this was quite the challenge. Thankfully, I had a few experts of my own to lean on.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
About five years ago, I was asked to move from Texas to Arizona to finalize and then oversee the combination of two of our company’s produce programs. Essentially we were folding in sales and operations from our Phoenix-based specialty produce company into the Sysco Broadline Company. Within several months, operations were stable, we re-trained the sales team and began to see improved sales.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Focus on people. It is the people in our industry that make our industry so special. Get to know them. Get to know your associates, your grower/shippers, your carriers, and of course your customers. With every decision you make, whether as an associate or as a leader, never lose sight of the impact of that decision on the people that have to execute or endure it.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
We have to do a better job of making produce appealing to our children, and that starts in the schools. There is plenty of focus on including fruits and vegetables in school lunches, but seemingly little focus on making those fruits and vegetable tasty. We’ve been successful in getting our products on the plate. We need to figure out how to get kids to clean that plate and go back for seconds. I know there are many examples of programs out there trying to accomplish this. Houston based, Brighter Bites is one such organization that is proudly supported by Sysco.