Melissa Ackerman

Executive Vice President of Sales and Operations
Produce Alliance: Buffalo Grove, IL

Years in Produce:

Age: 35

Personal Information:

Married; Three boys

Hobbies: Yoga; dance; bike riding with children; Friendship Circle; Brighter Bites.

Motto in life: Love every moment.

Work History: Ackerman is the second generation at family business Produce Alliance, founded by her father and some partners in 1996. As a result of her leadership, the company, its distributors and customers have all enjoyed a new chapter of exciting growth, innovation and success. Under her, the company has leveraged technology and developed relationships to boost sales and create new programming directions for both existing and new customers. Her next generation thinking has also brought Produce Alliance’s focus more clearly in line with current trends promoting healthful, sustainable and simple eating. Ackerman began preparing for her career by attaining a J.D. from the law school at the University of Miami in 2008, and working at a family law practice in Miami while simultaneously improving her Spanish-language skills. She then evolved her law practice to the areas of restaurant and retail defense, with the intention of eventually transitioning to the produce industry. She began her journey with Produce Alliance in 2012 and learned all aspects of the company’s varied operations by holding several positions including those of associate general counsel, vice president of sales and (most recently) executive vice president of sales and operations. Since she began her work with Produce Alliance, the company has invested significantly in technology and increased its footprint — growing from about 40 employees to more than 120. Her successes are not limited to bottom-line growth; she has also been highly instrumental in rallying Produce Alliance and its network of growers and distributors to make a difference in the many diverse communities they serve from bringing much needed attention and support to victims of weather-related disasters around the country, to supporting longer-term initiatives benefiting a variety of undeserved facets of their communities. She recently joined the advisory board for Freight Farms, which advances the ideas of healthful, sustainable and innovative growing. She also actively participates in the Produce Management Association, National Restaurant Association and other professional organizations that are platforms for development.

Questions & Answers:

Q: How did you begin working in produce?

The produce industry is my family’s business, and working together with my extended family, and colleagues who have become like family, to build something new, innovative and constantly improving is the best possible place I could imagine myself working.

Q: Are you a Gen X-er or Millennial?

Millennial. I see myself in this way because of not only when I was born, but how I live; taking advantage of every technological and logistical advantage I can to inject energy, progress and excitement into what I do. I feel like these characteristics define my generation, and I am excited to bring that to bear on my work.

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

That each day is filled with unique challenges and it is important to look at the big picture. It is easy to get bogged down in daily minutiae, but don’t forget what your goals are and keep on moving.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?

Learning the in’s and out’s of the produce world; it is a complicated business with many unwritten “rules of the road.” Understanding those nuances took a lot of patience. But there is also a lot of knowledge about the basic building blocks of the produce industry; from learning the broad array of different products to understanding the flow of the growing seasons and the basic contracting principles — all were challenging.