Produce Buyer - Southeast
Sprouts Farmers Market: Phoenix, AZ
Years in Produce:
Married; One daughter
Hobbies: Spending time with family; traveling; football; rugby; fishing; hunting; hiking; running
Motto in life: Do your job.
O’Donoghue started in the produce industry in 2014 after leaving the U.S. Navy as a petty officer, 2nd class, Arabic linguist. He was born and raised in Salinas and had worked on his family’s farm throughout high school and on college breaks. In 2014, he started with C&S Wholesale as an associate buyer and was promoted to senior buyer. During this time, he was involved in procuring various items, including melons, berries, avocados, corn and pumpkins. In 2017, he became a produce buyer for Sprouts Farmers Market out of its Atlanta warehouse. He is currently involved with the West Coast veg, melons and the apple/pear categories for the region.
Questions & Answers:
Q: How did you begin working in produce?
I grew up working on specialty crop farms for my grandfather and uncle in the Salinas Valley through the summers and winter breaks in college, up until joining the service. My father, sister, brother-in-law and cousins have all worked for grower-shippers at various points in their careers. The produce industry, at some level, is really all I have ever known.
Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I knew that the fresh produce industry was tight-knit and interconnected, but I don’t think I understood the degree to which everyone works together. People that reach out looking to sell or buy product often know my family or friends.
Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
It was, and still is, challenging to adjust to the changing preferences of consumers around the country. Outside of a few key items, every area has its own tastes and preferences, and it’s important to try to meet that demand.
Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Get to the fields and learn the product at the ground level. Understand how different commodities grow and what happens at the field level when things like weather occur. It goes beyond being able to say, “Well it rained, so the market is tight.”
Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew produce was the industry for you?
When I was still in the Navy and most of the time thinking about getting back into produce or farming. There is also something very comforting about the industry and being connected back to the Salinas Valley. It’s nice to be involved in a career field where it plays a large role in my family and our roots.
Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of a career in produce today?
It usually comes down to product availability and transportation. It is very clear-cut on what we need to do; source the product, get it to your warehouse, and get it to the stores and consumer. It can be very challenging.
Q: What is the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Labor will play a large role over the next decade. The costs associated with onboarding new technologies will inhibit rapid adoption. There are additional issues, including water supply, water purity, food safety and GMOs.
Q: How has the industry changed in your tenure?
I look back at what my father and uncle dealt with when I was a kid, and it’s a whole new world. Food safety laws have changed how everyone farms. Transportation laws (especially with the new E-log) have changed how you must think about the supply chain in terms of “days fresh,” and there most definitely is a need for global involvement now that the idea of “seasons” has gone away.