2020 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Nicole Minnich-Zapata

Age: 34
Marketing Director
Monterey, CA

Minnich-Zapata started learning the produce game as a child in the sales office at Misionero Vegetables, where her father was a partner at the time. As she aged, she enjoyed learning from her father while he co-found and built Food Source (later acquired by CH Robinson). During these years, she spent a significant amount of time accompanying him on visits to the fields, processing facilities, and events. Since embarking on her own, she is recognized as a team player and leader — willing to go the extra mile to accomplish the job. She began her official produce career as assistant to Joe Merenda (president) when the Harbinger Group, LLC was formed in 2010. She has since risen through the ranks and is known to be a creative force in the company. As she took on new responsibilities within the team, she earned the respect of the entire organization. In 2016, when Harbinger Group acquired Misionero, Minnich-Zapata moved into marketing. Since then she has risen to marketing director of Misionero where she manages overall marketing efforts and strategy as well as supporting product development and social accountability initiatives.

She has rebuilt all of the company’s marketing strategy, works on product development, and has reimaged the company’s business to the industry. Her “Smiles Behind Your Food” campaign has been the cornerstone of how the company presents itself to the industry. She developed this out of company’s core belief that its people are what make it a great company. This led to an obvious role for her to head up the company’s social accountability efforts as an organization incorporating EFI, rPlanet, Project Gigaton, and Zero Waste initiatives. Minnich-Zapata is also responsible for a complete rebranding of all of the company’s product lines, brands, and operating companies under the Harbinger Group umbrella. These include Misionero, Green Wave Farms, Vertical Foods, and Terra Fresh Organics. She is also very active in networking and participating in the industry, supporting marketing and women’s initiatives.

Hobbies: Spending quality time with family, Exercise, Hiking, Yoga

Personal/Community: Married, one daughter

Motto in life: “Life is a game, play it; Life is a challenge, Meet it; Life is an opportunity, Capture it.” – Unknown

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
This industry is like no other and can change rapidly from day-to-day. You have to plan meticulously as well as stay agile to excel.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of my team. With great leadership, we have been able to build teams that have led to Misionero’s continued growth, on the pillars of putting people first as well as innovation, and I could not be more proud.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Soak it all in, become knowledgeable in every aspect of your business. Don’t just stay in your lane.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Put people first in messaging. Now more than ever, people want to know the story behind their food and where it comes from. All aspects of our industry have great people stories to tell.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
Since I grew up in the industry there has always been a pull but it was made official when I started working for Harbinger Group. I love the wins and challenges that come with working with perishable products and the connection of it all.