2024 40 Under Forty Winner: James D. Williams

Business Development
United Apple Sales
Lyndonville, NY

Age: 29
Hometown: Walworth, NY
Hobbies: Farm tours, Evening orchard walks, Snowshoeing, Skiing, Doing donuts on ATVs
Family/Community: Married, Newborn daughter, Member of NY Farm Bureau, Active in local FFA Organizations
Motto in life: Each day is a blessing. The bad days help us to appreciate the good ones.

Following graduation from Cornell University in 2017, Williams took on a buying role with Sam’s Club in Bentonville, AR, where he was responsible for grapes, stone fruit and tropical fruit. During the global pandemic and due to a desire to move back to New York State and the production side of the industry, he took a job with Intergrow Greenhouses. He was responsible for revamping the marketing efforts of the hydroponic tomato grower and later took on sales responsibilities for some of the company’s top retail and wholesale customers.

Following Intergrow’s merger with Mastronardi Produce, he took a position as business development manager at United Apple Sales in July 2023. In this role, he focused on delivering exceptional quality and service to domestic retailers, wholesalers and spearheading new global markets for exports. In 2022, he and his wife established newly planted orchards. As a grower and salesperson with retail experience, Williams is known for being uniquely positioned to identify issues in the industry and solve them for the best possible outcomes.

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

Raised on my family’s farm in upstate New York, I’ve been in the industry since birth. I’ve always loved the satisfaction of seeing the crops grow and providing a product that is healthy and nutritious. Growing up on the farm, I learned to appreciate the intensive amount of work put into people’s food and the dynamic challenge of working with, and against, Mother Nature. For me, it really doesn’t matter the commodity, each product is different, and there is so much that goes into stocking those retail shelves. It’s a very admirable career.

Q: What is the one thing in your business that you are most passionate about?

At United Apple Sales, we are serving two sets of customers — the retailers and growers. It is our job to satisfy both parties and to do such a good job that our retail accounts offer us more business, and our growers supply us with more fruit. It is our responsibility to innovate and solve for the best outcome. It’s a check and balance that always keeps us on our toes.

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

The endeavor of my wife and I to raise our orchard is the proudest thing I’ve accomplished. There is something about starting from scratch and not knowing if your dream is viable. It has been an extremely stressful and scary three years. We have learned so much and have come to deeply appreciate the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship.

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

Gain exposure to as many facets of the business as you can: growing, packing, selling, transportation, food safety.

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

The most critical issue facing this industry is labor. US Apple shared a stat that AEWR wages have increased 62% since 2014, while the price for apples remains mostly flat. This is a staggering figure, especially when considering for apples, and many other produce commodities, labor input is the leading variable cost of the growing operation.