2020 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Nicole Elizabeth Hulstein

Age: 38
Category Manager
Food Lion
Salisbury, NC

Hulstein began working at Food Lion straight out of college in 2004. She joined the produce category team as a category buying assistant. Hard work and tenacity earned her a promotion into a buying role roughly 18 months later. As a buyer for Food Lion, she was responsible for the day-to-day management of inventory, forecasting, cost negotiations and moving product from source into distribution centers. During her time as a buyer, she has bought most all of the categories in the produce department at one time or another. As she continued to grow in her career, she took on category analytic responsibilities as an analyst for the Snack Category. While the experience was good, she realized her passion was produce and rejoined the produce team as an assistant category manager, a role in which she was fortunate to apprentice with Teri Miller.

Having developed the necessary skills to grow her talent, in 2016 she branched out to manage the fruit category for The Fresh Market. While she loved produce and the supply chain, she became was eager for another challenge. In 2017, an in-store challenge presented itself in the form of her returning to Food Lion to lead a critical business initiative project. The initiative encompassed many aspects of her expertise including product quality, freshness, item specification and supply chain impacts. The role afforded her the opportunity to grow as a leader and position herself to take on her current role in 2018 as fruit category manager for Food Lion. She was a 2014 graduate of the Southeastern Produce Council’s (SEPC) STEP-UPP program and was one of the founding members of SEPC’s Southern Roots Committee.

Hobbies: Spending time with family, Reading, Dancing, Cooking

Personal/Community: Married, 2 children, Cove Kids ministry at local church, previously served on Board of Directors for Child Care Center in Salisbury

Motto in life: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I didn’t find the produce industry – it found me. What attracted me to the industry is the speed and endurance required to thrive in this industry.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
This is an industry that flourishes because of the people in it.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Varieties, grades and specifications — there was so much to learn!

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Leading others and teaching them the intricacies of this industry is an incredible honor and brings me great joy.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
The first time I made something happen that should have never been able to happen. A problem solver by nature, having that first huge win for my company because of my relationship with others in the industry, being willing to think outside of the box and use my critical thinking skills to ultimately deliver for my customers was a remarkably high moment.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Sustainability. It’s a must-have to ensure we are able to continue our businesses for the next decade and the decades after that.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
There is so much hard work that goes into getting produce onto the shelf that they are purchasing from.