2024 40 Under Forty Winner: Nikki Ford

Director of Procurement
Colfax, NC

Age: 39
Hometown: Goldsboro, NC
Hobbies: Painting, Drawing, Spending time with family and friends, Cooking
Family/Community: Single, 1 child (in college)
Motto in life: Don’t be afraid to fail. Most failed attempts turn into lessons learned.

Ford started her career at Whole Foods in Cheshire, CT, where she worked from 2006 until 2018. While at Whole Foods, she held multiple positions and received several promotions, culminating as a regional produce buyer. In that role, she was responsible for partnering with the merchandising teams in the Northeast and North-Atlantic regions, as well as growers, to expand and build programs around locally sourced produce. While a buyer at Whole Foods, she also worked on buying other organic and conventional produce commodities.

In 2018, she relocated to Greensboro, NC, to take a position with Foster-Caviness as a produce category manager. In this position, she was responsible for supplier evaluations, contract negotiation and management, as well as FOB buying of commodities such as citrus, tropicals, grapes, berries, and West Coast lettuces and veg. In 2022, she was promoted to her current position as director of procurement, where she leads Foster’s supply chain team and is a driving force behind the company’s new retail, wholesale, and supply chain services offerings. Since being promoted, she has retooled the company’s contract posture, expanded its supplier base, and greatly improved product offerings and local programs. She has created several new roles designed to bring young professionals into the industry and spends considerable time mentoring and developing them into buyers and operations experts. She is instrumental in designing a new internship program in partnership with North Carolina Agriculture and Technical University that Foster looks to launch in the near future.

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

My introduction to the industry was a bit atypical. Looking back, I don’t even think I fully understand what was to come. I started out my career at Whole Foods, and I honestly was more drawn to the company than the industry. The passion for the industry came a little later as a result of my experience there.

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

I wish I understood the true value in networking when I first started my career. When you’re young in a career, it can sometimes be scary to ask questions or reach out for help, but having a strong peer network is essential.

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

I’m passionate about feeding people — getting good food to people, whether that be through retail, foodservice, CSAs, or just cooking for others.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?

I wish the everyday consumer understood how much effort, passion and labor goes into getting fresh food into their homes and onto their tables. I think a lot of people don’t understand the complexities we face in our industry each day, especially at the grower level.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?

There are so many more women in leadership roles now than when I first entered the industry.

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

I am extremely proud to be where I am today, but I also appreciate and am proud of every step of the process it took to get here. There was no one step that was possible without the other. That makes all of them special to me.