2023 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Cal Parker

Age: 37

Sales Specialist
L&M Companies
Raleigh, NC

Hometown: Rose Hill, NC
Hobbies: His kids’ extra-curriculars, Golf, Traveling, All things NC State Wolfpack
Family/Community: Married, 2 children, Volunteer Coach, Plymouth Church, Wolfpack Club ImPack Program Donor
Motto in life: If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.

Having joined the produce industry a little over seven years ago, Parker has become a leader at L&M and in the produce industry through hard work and dedication. He began working at L&M in 2015 as a sales specialist on the potato and onion team. His passion for potatoes helped him set his mark as a leader in this category. Outside of his day-to-day sales responsibilities, he’s also become very involved in the farm side of the business. He spends a lot of time at the farm locations, helping to facilitate daily packing and shipping schedules, set pricing, and provide information to the sales team. He also works closely with partner growers on forecasting and crop planning. Due to the efforts of the team Parker works with, L&M has expanded its acreage in the potato and onion categories and its footprint in the retail and foodservice space.

In early 2021, he graduated from L&M’s Leadership Decathlon. Coming out of this program, he spearheaded the development of the Right Sales Roundtable at L&M — a series of monthly meetings focused on driving collaboration across all sales teams and business units within L&M. In 2022, he graduated from IFPA’s Emerging Leaders Program and was a part of the winning simulation team while in the program. He remains an IFPA Career Pathways Program Volunteer.

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
After graduating from North Carolina State University, I was a high school baseball coach, athletic director, and history teacher for nine years. At one time, I was one of the youngest athletic directors in the state of North Carolina and was fortunate enough to oversee an athletic department that won multiple state championships. While I loved being on a ball field most days of the year, I felt like my competitive nature would suit me well in the private sector.

At the time, my younger brother was enjoying a successful start to his career in the produce industry and thought I’d be a good fit in the industry as well. I grew up in a rural farm town and worked summers on the farm from the time I was 13 all the way until college. When I interviewed for a sales position at L&M, I was drawn to the competitive nature of the business and the constant change that is a part of farming.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Perfection isn’t attainable. Produce grows in the dirt, it is not manufactured. Trying to put perfect product on a truck or deliver perfect product kept me up at night. I have had to learn to accept that late trucks happen. Weather happens. While I strive every day to keep pristine scorecards and perfect fill rates, batting 1.000 in this industry isn’t possible.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Farmers truly care and take pride in putting beautiful, responsibly grown produce in grocery stores and restaurants. They care about the land and about water conservation more than anyone. The long days and nights that farmers across the country work in order to feed America is remarkable.

Q: What are some ways we can increase produce consumption at the point of sale?
Food is medicine and we in the produce industry offer the best medicine there is. We need to continue to push that because it is true. Also, I think we have to continue to be innovative in our offerings. Consumers are drawn to what is new. We have to continue to put fresh produce in front of them in new, creative ways to drive consumption.