2024 40 Under Forty Winner: Johnny Lunsford

Product Manager
L&M Companies Inc.
Raleigh, NC

Age: 35
Hometown: St. Augustine, FL
Hobbies: Fishing, Camping, Golf
Family/Community: Married, 2 children, Active support of the Home Education Foundation
Motto in life: To live is to do the things you want to do when you want to do them. So live!

Lunsford began his career in 2006 when he moved to south Georgia for a seasonal position ensuring the quality of farm products with Rosemont Farms. What followed was four years of traversing the industry’s dry veg growing regions. He was responsible for building grower alliances, field buying, and quality inspections. In 2011, he gained a position in account management. He helped build sustainable growing programs, from dry veg to asparagus to melons to tropicals, along with customer relationships.
After Rosemont sold to C. H. Robinson Worldwide, he took a sales position with L&M Companies’ North Florida division in East Palatka, FL. He was responsible for reaching regional and long-term sales goals for this location. In 2017, he became the cabbage category product manager and works on location at L&M’s largest producing cabbage, potato and broccoli farm. He continues to grow year-round production and sales of L&M’s core products. He completed the FFVA Emerging Leader Development Program (Class 9).

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

A close family friend introduced me to the sales manager for Rosemont Farms just before the summer of 2006. Rosemont was looking to hire a young professional who was available that summer to train on the road at some of its growing deals. An early partner in a landscaping business in South Florida at the time, I had a great deal of interest in agriculture. When I heard they were working with vegetable farms on a commercial scale and saw how successful they all were, I wanted to try my hand at learning that business. Needless to say, I never went back to landscaping.

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

Just how far technology would come and the roles it would play in our business. Many of the products are the same as they were 18 years ago, but the way technology now impacts how our products are packed, palletized, tagged, shipped, sold, and delivered has changed drastically.

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

You learn very early how hard it is to farm successfully. Seeing the challenges farms face every day, and being a part of their legacy, is what drives my passion for vegetable sales and production.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?

In my 18 years in the business, we went from flip phones and fax machines to live videos and scanning PDFs from our cell phones. There’s new ERP software that puts our data all in one place and automatically reports what we need for business review. I think how we communicate now has been the biggest change, and I think the best is yet to come, with huge advances in technology.

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

Being the cabbage product manager for L&M, I’m proud to see the growth of that category in our industry as a whole.

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

The disconnect between our buyers and the products we represent. Many new buyers do not have a great understanding of what it takes to produce a vegetable crop. It’s harder every day to communicate challenges due to inclement weather, new pest pressures, and seasonality by region. It’s important the next generation of buyers understand where their food and our products are really coming from, as well as how they get there.