2023 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Billy Itule

Age: 40

Senior Management
Willie Itule Produce
Phoenix, AZ

Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona
Hobbies: Tennis, Tech Podcasts, Travel, Re-watching epic movie franchises with his kids
Family/Community: Married, Two children, Board Member of Boys Hope Girls Hope and 2023 charity breakfast co-chair, Finance Chair with St. Thomas the Apostle Parent Teacher Organization.
Motto in life: Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. – Winston Churchill

Itule has taken the reins of his multi-generational family business, bringing it into the 21st century. He expertly balances technology, vendors, customers, employees and the general craziness of the produce business. Itule grew up in the business, spending plenty of hours at the Willie Itule Produce warehouse as a kid, learning the business by watching and helping. After graduating from college in 2005, he joined the family business full-time and proceeded to grow his career by rotating through various departments.

Over the last 18 years, his scope has grown to encompass operations, technology and national relationships. His leadership has led the company in new directions with government contracts, the food box program, and generated new business by partnering with companies outside of produce. He directs and oversees process improvements throughout the company, works with vendors and keeps an eye on markets to ensure the company is priced competitively. Itule also works with customers and potential customers to develop and maintain business.

In the industry, he is a member of the executive board at Produce Alliance, as well as a founding member of its Next Gen Committee.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Over the last few years, people have become much more aware of supply chains. Just as people now have a better understanding of where semiconductors are manufactured and all the day-to-day items they’re in, I’d like for consumers to understand the produce supply chain and the expertise, care and innovation that gets fruits and vegetables from farm to table. I’d also love for consumers to be more aware of environmental impact across the produce supply chain. 2022 was a record year for billion-dollar weather disasters. These events reverberate across the produce business ecosystem, ultimately impacting what foods end-consumers can get, and how much they cost.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Anyone who is part of a family business will understand this one: our company’s founders, my parents, Willie and Lynn Itule, take a lot more vacations these days. Whenever they head out of town, I feel proud that they get to go enjoy some of the fruits of their labors. And I feel proud of the entire team at Willie Itule Produce for the best-in-class produce distribution business we do. I guess you could say I am proud every day of what my parents built, what I’ve been able to contribute to carry that forward, and the people who share the vision and values.

Q: What do you see as a critical issue facing the industry in the next decade and why?
Agility. If the last few years have been any indication, the rate of change in business and consumer technology and its impact on the produce industry will continue to accelerate. We can’t say, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it,” and dig our heels in. The instinct has to be, “Let’s learn about this” or “What could work for us?”