Tom_Smith

Director of Foodservice
California Giant Berry Farms: Watsonville, CA

Years in Produce:

Age: 34

Personal Information:

Married

Hobbies: Traveling; wine tasting; St. Louis Cardinals baseball, St. Louis Blues hockey, University of Alabama football; Jimmy Buffett concerts; Involved in charities including The California Giant Foundation, The Original Spring Lamb BBQ, Annual Skirt Steak BBQ, Tour de Fresh, American Cancer Society, Cal Poly Athletics Fundraiser

Motto in life: Always do your best and always be yourself!

Work History: Smith began in the foodservice industry at a restaurant as a senior in high school. He continued through college and began a new position in 2007 as commissary manager with Delaware North-Sportservice, a concessions company operating at professional sporting venues in both Springfield, MO, and St. Louis. His career in fresh produce began in 2010 when he took a position as the produce and refrigerated buyer for Reinhart Foodservice (Springfield, MO), a foodservice distribution company. In 2011, Smith took a position with C.H. Robinson in produce transportation sales and business development. In 2012, he was hired by Pro*Act USA and began managing customer accounts and sourcing berries. After five years with ProAct, he was offered a position as director of foodservice with California Giant Berry Farms. Smith is now responsible for providing leadership in the operations of the foodservice channel and sales department. He has a psychology degree from Missouri State University (2008) and has completed Pro*Act’s Emerging Leaders Program and the United Cornell Leadership Seminar.

Questions & Answers:

Q: How did you begin working in produce?

I’m not sure if it was chance or luck that brought me into the produce industry. I was working as a commissary manager for a concessions company that operated at a baseball park. I purchased every item, from beer to liquor, peanuts, cups, candy, burgers, hot dogs and cleaning products. I did buy some produce, but it was a very small piece. From time to time, I would purchase shorts from our local produce distributor. I got to know them very well and spent some time at their food shows. I received a call one day that their produce buyer of 40-plus years had decided to retire and they were looking for a produce and refrigerated buyer who could handle volume and run tight inventory.

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

It is OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. I came into the industry very “green.” I made some mistakes and used to beat myself up for them. However, each time I messed up, I tried to make sure I did not repeat that same mistake.

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

Find a great mentor who is experienced, dependable and will always make time for you. Also, be involved. Take every opportunity to be involved in industry and associational events and networking opportunities.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?

Pay attention to the trends and stay relevant. Marketing the health benefits of fresh produce is great with the “healthy lifestyle” trends. Sell the wonderful flavors and innovative ideas of adding fresh produce or replacing traditional items with fresh produce to the foodies, chefs and culinarians. Follow what the Millennials are doing. Home delivery, ready-made meals and meal kits are a growing category and this is the same group that wants fresh and healthy.

Q: What is the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?

Labor, or the lack thereof. We must continue to work to find ways to do what we do in a more effective way. There are more and more restrictions and regulations around labor each year. We continue to see complications by legal and political entities.