2023 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Justin E. Thurow

Age: 38

Senior Merchant
Sam’s Club
Bentonville, AR

Hometown: Sterling, CT
Disc Golf, Hikes with family, Traveling, Video games
Family/Community: Married, Twin daughters
Motto in life: Vision without action is a daydream.

Thurow’s very first job was in produce at age 16 as a part-time stocker at A&P in the Northeast. He worked at several other retailers in the produce department while attending college. After college, he moved to Miami, FL, and began working at The Fresh Market, rising quickly to produce manager at the Pembroke Pines location. In 2007, he returned to the Northeast, taking a job at Whole Foods Market as assistant produce manager. Over the next several years, he worked at various Whole Foods locations throughout the Northeast in both assistant produce manager and produce manager roles. In 2010, he was presented with the opportunity to become a regional buyer at the Whole Foods local distribution center. In 2011, he moved to Santa Cruz, CA, to become a global buyer at Whole Foods where he managed multiple commodities.

After five years, he took a position with Sam’s Club in Bentonville, AR, as an associate buyer and after only one year was promoted to buyer. In 2018, he was promoted to senior merchant, where he is responsible for apples, pears and cherries. He has led the Sam’s Club apple and cherry category to significant growth. Since joining Sam’s Club, he has earned several internal awards as well recognition for the Sam’s Produce Team by the NW Pear Bureau for category leader.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
The number of distinct roles and career paths there are in the produce industry. I would have branched out sooner had I known the types of opportunities available in buying/merchandising and supply chain.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Have an open mind. Things change fast and having an open mind and being receptive to change will help you go a long way.

Q: What do you see as a critical issue facing the industry in the next decade and why?
Climate change. Weather impacts everyone and everything we do in the produce industry. There is no “normal” anymore with weather patterns. It is a challenge we will all need to work together on if we want to keep on providing fresh food to our communities.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
There have been so many changes in the last 20 years since I started my career in produce. More focus on flavor versus yield, convenience items, a push toward organic, sustainable farming practices and packaging.

Q: What are some ways we can increase produce consumption at the point of sale?
Educating the consumer on how healthy produce can be. Everyone knows, in general, that eating fresh fruits and vegetables has health benefits, but teaching on the specifics could pay dividends. Also, the work being done on flavor and that produce can taste good, too!

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
In a perfect world, I would love consumers to know the details that go into product getting from the farm or orchard into their homes. There is a lot of passion and steps involved, and I think it would lead to a greater appreciation for the industry.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
During tough seasons, markets can become extremely volatile. That leads to the constant need for analytical thinking and problem solving.