2023 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: John Paap

Age: 37

Jac. Vandenberg Inc.
Tarrytown, NY

Hometown: Putnam Valley, NY
Hobbies: History, Soccer, Traveling, Gardening, Family
Family/Community: Married, 3 Sons
Motto in life: “Wonder is the beginning of wisdom” — Socrates

Following graduation in 2008 from SUNY Binghamton, Paap joined Jac. Vandenberg Inc. Having a background in finance, Paap started in the accounting department, but his curiosity and excitement to learn soon led him to involvement in other areas of the business, such as operations, legal, food safety and compliance, marketing and sustainability. In 2011, he became a member of the PMA Produce Traceability Initiative working group, which worked to establish best practices for case-level traceability in the produce supply chain. In 2014, he became responsible for developing and establishing company policies for security protocols in accordance with Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) criteria and successfully achieved Tier II Level status in the program, which Jac. Vandenberg continues to maintain today. In 2017, he led the development of Jac. Vandenberg’s first in-house brand, Sunrays, which also became the industry’s first giveback fresh produce brand, partnering with Save the Children to give back to their mission for every package packed. The Sunrays brand also became the first offshore citrus brand to be Non-GMO Project Verified.

Paap also partners with leading minds and organizations around the world to develop and introduce first-to-market sustainable packaging alternatives to traditional single-use plastic packaging. In 2019, a package co-developed between Paap and Graphic Packaging became America’s first food and beverage product awarded the world’s first Plastic Free Trust Mark. This same package won the 2020 Excellence Award for Achievement in Packaging and Sustainability from the Paperboard Packaging Council. In 2020, he introduced, in collaboration with VPZ in Austria, the first home compostable, tree-fiber based netting for citrus in the U.S. market. This package won the 2021 Eco-Excellence Awards for Best Snack category.

In 2022, he introduced, in collaboration with TIPA in Israel, the first home compostable grape pouch bag in the U.S. market. This package won the 2022 International Fresh Produce Association Best Sustainable Packaging Award and 2023 PAC Global Award of Distinction in the Package Innovation Sustainable Design category.He has worked closely with SCS and grower partners packing in the Sunrays brand to gain Sustainably Grown certification. In 2022, growers packing in the Sunrays brand became the first Peruvian and Mexican grape growers to achieve this certification. He is co-chair of the IFPA Sustainable Packaging Working Group, a member of the IFPA Sustainability Council and co-host of the “History of Fresh Produce” series on The Produce Industry Podcast.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Developing a produce brand that stands for meaningful impact and change. The Sunrays brand is a culmination of a lot of passion points for me and the Jac. Vandenberg company. When we began the journey of creating the Sunrays brand, I knew I wanted it to be not just any brand, but THE brand associated with impact — hence the brand tagline “Snack with impact.” I continue to get excited each time I see a shopper pick up a Sunrays package or a consumer post a picture of it online.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Listen, challenge and be honest. Listen to everyone you talk to; their knowledge is invaluable and often cannot be found in textbooks or school. Challenge the way things are done today, so that they can be done better tomorrow. Finally, my father would always tell me that “your most valuable asset is your word.” This industry is heavily built upon relationships and personal connections — be honest and true to your word.