2023 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Caleb Brown

Age: 40

Berry Category Manager
North Bay Produce, Inc.
Traverse City, MI

Hometown: Traverse City, MI
Hobbies: Playing Hockey, Camping, Mountain Biking, Hiking
Family/Community: Engaged, One daughter, Free & Accepted Mason-Traverse City Lodge #222

During Brown’s 12 years at North Bay, he has risen quickly through various positions and made an impact in the company. After college graduation, he worked five years as a web developer, but wanted to move back to Traverse City and took a job with North Bay in 2011 as an order administrator. In 2013, he was tasked in a sales support role for a new customer and within a few years, they became one of the company’s top three customers.

In 2016, he was promoted to berry category manager where he oversees production, sales and inventory management. Over the last seven years, his responsibilities have grown to include managing inventories for all commodities (over 60 million cases annually) and also overseeing North Bay’s production team. He graduated from Northwood University with a degree in management information systems, and uses his exceptional computer skills daily to solve inventory and shipping dilemmas that save North Bay thousands of dollars annually.

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
A teammate on my hockey team worked at North Bay and thought I would be a good addition to the team. I wanted a job in Traverse City.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
When I started, I had no idea how much was involved with getting fresh produce to the consumer. There are so many great people involved in every step to make sure consumers have fresh product available in stores year-round.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
It’s still a challenge now — produce never stops. It is a 24/7 job to make sure the product is moving as efficiently as possible to ensure the end consumer is getting the freshest product possible.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Everything! It is a very interesting industry. I haven’t been bored in 12 years.

Q: What are some ways we can increase produce consumption at the point of sale?
Quality. As an industry, we need to do whatever we can to make sure the consumer has a great eating experience, year-round. If the consumer has a great experience, they will come back for more, again and again.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Food safety and traceability have improved tremendously over the last 10 years. A lot of great people put in a tremendous amount of work — from the fields, transportation, warehouses and stores — to make sure procedures are followed and the produce is safe for the consumer.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Don’t worry, it will take a few seasons to get up to speed. Everything is changing all the time, and that is OK. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

Q: What do you see as a critical issue facing the industry in the next decade and why?
Supply chain and labor. COVID showed us how fragile the supply chain/labor market is. When dealing with fresh produce, delays are not an option.