2023 Produce Business 40 Under Forty Award Winner: Kevin Wilkinson

Age: 35

Sales Manager
Vegetable Growers Supply
Salinas, CA

Hometown: Hollister, CA
Hobbies: Hunting, Coaching Football, Team Roping
Family/Community: Married, 3 children, High School Football Coach, San Benito County Fair Livestock Auction Chairman
Motto in life: “You can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

Wilkinson began his career in the produce industry after moving back to his hometown in 2014. His first opportunity was with Growers Express, which owned the licensing rights to Green Giant Fresh. He started as a sales assistant, then, six months in, he was moved to the value-added team, where he sourced raw product for the plant. At the end of 2014, he was promoted to the sales desk, where he worked for five years as a commodity manager. He managed the conventional romaine and leaf program along with the entire organic program. He ended his tenure with Growers Express in 2019 with substantial growth YOY and as a top sales producer.

In 2019, he made the move to Vegetable Growers Supply as a sales representative. In the first two years, he had the highest growth of new business companywide. He expanded the company’s sales territory into the central valley of California, where it serviced new accounts outside the fresh vegetable category. In 2021, he was promoted to his current role as sales manager. In his time in this position, his team has achieved record sales growth and pushed the envelope to be leaders in the industry introducing innovative packaging. As sales manager, he has worked closely with purchasing to source packaging nationwide, bringing the most value to customers at a competitive price.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Try to create as much balance in your life as possible. This can be a very demanding industry and you must adapt to change at a moment’s notice. Be sure you make time for your family. Take that trip, get your workout in and check that item off your bucket list. Stress is no joke and to manage that, you must have balance.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
I had little to no experience in the produce industry, which was most challenging. I asked a lot of questions and got as involved as they would let me to learn everything and anything I could. I took the opportunity to soak up all the knowledge I could from the veterans in the industry to help develop my skill set and grow.

Q: What are some ways we can increase produce consumption at the point of sale?
Education of our industry to the youth is most important, since they are the future consumers. Also, innovative packaging that creates convenience to the consumer is important, since life is only getting busier and we seem to always be on the go!

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Do not be afraid to volunteer to do the tasks that are hard or out of your comfort zone. Get involved in as much as you can and be prepared to work hard. This industry is demanding, yet very rewarding, and if you put in the work, it will give back to you.

Q: What do you see as a critical issue facing the industry in the next decade and why?
Packaging sustainability. As the consumer demands it and the retailer wants it, the industry is faced with the obstacles to create the capacity of recycled content into the manufacturing process. The amount needed to service the industry will take substantial time to generate. Government regulations have started the race against time to implement this process. Educating the industry, from the shipper to the consumer, will need to be done to implement the changes needed to obtain sustainable packaging.