2020 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Sarah Alvernaz

Age: 38
General Manager/Sales
California Sweet Potato Growers
Livingston, CA

Alvernaz is responsible for the sales, marketing and managing of the day-to-day activities at California Sweet Potato Growers, including the finances and food safety programs. She is credited with having extensive knowledge of the industry. She began in the industry at Famous Software in 2005 in sales. In her position, she dealt with various aspects of the produce business from the inside out, top to bottom, and across many different commodities. After Famous, she took a position in 2007 as marketing coordinator for California Tree Fruit Agreement where she built relationships with many of the growers in the Central Valley, helped coordinate marketing materials for both domestic and international programs, and wrote many marketing communications. In 2008, she received an offer to become general manager of California Sweet Potato Growers. A position she has held, along with sales, for Cal Sweet for more than 10 years. Through efficiency, and production changes she has increased net profits more than 900 percent and has grown volume sales by more than 30 percent. She is an active member of the California Sweetpotato Council, serving on the marketing sub-committee, and helping organize the annual convention. For the past two years she has represented the California Sweetpotato Council in Washington D.C. where she not only lobbies for the interests of sweet potato growers but the entire agriculture industry.

Hobbies: Baking, Decorating cakes/cookies

Personal/Community: Married, three children, Japanese Farm-Family exchange program through Niigata Agricultural University

Motto in life: “Give grace to receive grace. Often times that leaves the door open for future positive relationships.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
From a young age I was passionate about agriculture and knew I wanted to be in agri-business. I was very active in many agricultural organizations in high school and college, including FFA, Ag-Business Management (ABM), Farm Bureau, and part of a National winning Food Distribution Research Society team at Cal Poly. My first career opportunity came after a Cal Poly ABM meeting where Amy Gates, who was with Famous Software at the time (now President of Frontera) recruited me to work in Sales.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Produce is very much like Wall Street — some decisions are calculated and some are very much emotional reactions. I would tell my younger self to recognize patterns, and trust your intuition.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud that I took over a company at 26 and increased our profits and efficiencies. I am proud to cultivate relationships with customers and other industry members. I am proud to represent a brand that is known for quality. I am proud to use my experience at California Tree Fruit Agreement to help guide the marketing program for the California Sweetpotato Council, our voluntary industry organization.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
I knew Cal Sweet was my home when I was able to use all of my skills, from sales, to accounting, marketing, production management, conflict resolution, and more. Though, my aha moment came when I was able to build genuine relationships with my customers. It’s easy to make a produce sale (if you are priced below the market). The true gift is making the most for your growers. Each sale is about the health and sustainability of our industry and our growers who have been farming for generations. Building a customer base that supports that is essential to long-term success.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I have many goals for myself and Cal Sweet with lots of growth potential. There’s no other place I would rather be. I know I have more to learn and more to give. Once my children are a little older, I look forward to the opportunities to give back outside of my company through leadership and community involvement. For now my titles of Mom, general manager, farm wife/co-owner keep me pretty busy.