2024 40 Under Forty Winner: Erica Miller

Manager, Sourcing; West Coast
The Ruby Company
Buffalo Grove, IL

Age: 35
Hometown: Salinas, CA
Hobbies: Hiking with her dog, Horseback riding, Concerts
Family/Community: Married, 2 daughters, Volunteer at CA Salinas Rodeo
Motto in life: Good growth is meant to be painful.

In 2014, only two weeks after graduating from California State University Northridge, Miller began her produce career as an assistant in the sales office at Duda Farm Fresh Foods. Her first position was as a supportive role on accounts such as Performance Food Group (PFG) and US Foods. In 2017, she moved to continue her career at Mann Packing, taking a position in sales. She managed key accounts, including Kroger and PFG. After five years at Mann, she was subject to the wave of layoffs in February 2020 due to the pandemic. She landed a position with The Ruby Company in April 2020. She is credited for managing to learn the company’s entire system on her own.

Miller was the company’s first hire in the Ruby West Coast department, and has been instrumental in building the department from the ground up. She helped to install protocols and procedures, and personally manages the company’s largest broadline distributor customer. As manager of the Reinhart/PFG West Coast business, she works as a produce buyer and procurement specialist, regularly meeting her grower/shipper partner contacts and bird-dogging fields for quality and what to expect. The position is quite unique, as she is an advocate for both her customers and shippers. Having experience on the shipper side and being a saleswoman/buyer allows for multifaceted perspectives and critical thinking.

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?

Upon graduating with a sociology degree, I did not have a career in mind. My dad told me if I moved home, I should work in Salinas’s biggest industry, agriculture. I was hired in Duda’s sales office and fell in love with the business. I love that I am a part of an industry that helps feed our nation healthy, homegrown food.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?

I wish I knew that with every mistake made, you learn the most from the growth that it creates.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

I started at The Ruby Company in April 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was shifting into high gear, and we were forced to “shelter in place.” My position was to manage the new West Coast Performance Food Group and Reinhart Foods merger. Since my company is headquartered in Chicago and I am in Salinas, CA, not only did I have a new job and had the task of implementing new SOPS, but I had to also learn a brand-new system from across the country. I did not even get a chance to meet my boss or coworkers until May of 2021! Since then, the department has grown, acquiring new accounts and continues to evolve in both produce sales and logistics.

Q: What do you see as a critical issue facing the industry in the next decade and why?

It is impossible to predict what the impact of natural disasters will have on the industry. From both a food safety and crop availability standpoint, our way of life may be at risk. More specifically, on California’s Central Coast, droughts, wildfires, and, most recently, flooding have all contributed to unpredictability in the markets, product availability, and damage to agricultural infrastructure.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?

It is important to understand — regardless if you are the one planting the seed, harvesting the product, shipping or selling it — nobody is more important than the other. Produce is a family, and each person is essential.