2020 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Travis Phelps

Age: 39
Key Account Manager
Robinson Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN

For the past 15 years, Phelps has been helping his customers and his company consistently grow. In 2004, he started his journey in the produce business with C.H Robinson in Spokane, WA, where he spent his early years surrounded by industry veterans that helped build the foundation he needed to be successful. He later transferred to Scottsdale, AZ, where he took on an expanded role within C.H Robinson and began to work as a regional commodity manager and account manager. During the eight years spent in Arizona, he worked with processors and retailers in the West and Rocky Mountain Region, growing businesses and forming life-long relationships. While in Arizona, he was two-time employee of the year for outstanding production and performance. Phelps also completed C.H. Robinson’s Key Account Sales Program. He then made the decision to relocate to Nashville to focus on bringing The Misfits program to life. The Misfits became the largest program of its type in the country and started the conversation around how to better market and sell cosmetically ugly fruit, combatting food waste throughout the supply chain.

In 2017, Phelps left Robinson Fresh to take the position as vice president of sales for Veggie Noodle Co. in Austin, TX. He was part of a dynamic and creative team focused on bringing Veggie Noodles and zoodles to the world. Being on the leading-edge of a bourgeoning trend, he helped the company experience explosive growth while bringing healthy eating options to families across the country. In 2018, he rejoined the team at Robinson Fresh, this time in Tampa, FL, where he began working as a key account manager and focusing on bringing new innovations to the marketplace. He has led several marketing and product development initiatives since his return to Robinson Fresh — one of those being the Daily ‘Dos Avocado program that he created and brought to market. A great example of innovation in the industry, Daily ‘Dos uses exclusive technology to offer four ripened avocados at different stages.

Hobbies: Golf, Cooking, Travel

Personal/Community: Married, two sons

Motto in life: “Go the extra mile… it’s never crowded.”

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
It took me longer than it should have to put myself out there and push new ideas out and get projects moving. I would encourage anyone that is just starting out to be as proactive as possible in their career. Take chances and make sure their voice is heard. I wish I would have done that from day one.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
The launch of the Misfits program and bringing positive attention to ugly fruit and veggies. This program to-date has moved millions of pounds of ugly fruits and veggies that otherwise may have gone unharvested or unsold in a traditional retail environment.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
We need to continue to focus on helping growers to move the whole crop. As an industry, we still have too much of a myopic view of what “good product” needs to look like and what we choose to put on the shelves for our end customers. The world is embracing fruit that isn’t perfect and shoppers are realizing that often cosmetically ugly fruit can taste better, cost less, and is a responsible choice when making their purchasing decision. We need to re-evaluate our specs and continue to focus on fresh more than sizing and appearance.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Data. We have been able to gather and leverage data and information so much more effectively than I would have ever thought possible 15 years ago. The trajectory of this part of the business is accelerating so quickly and I am excited to see the advancements in the years ahead.