Celebrating 35 Years — Vanguards Who Made a Difference: Barney McClure and Bruce Taylor

Originally printed in the January 2021 issue of Produce Business.

Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguards are Barney McClure and Bruce Taylor.

McClure and Tjerandsen

Protein and produce are two products for which the late ad and marketing man Barney McClure is famous. On the first, as one of the mover-shaker members of the Fresno, CA-based Inventors Club in the 1960s, McClure came up with the pop-up timer for roasting turkeys. Like many of his fellow Club members, McClure at the time coordinated advertising for the California Turkey Advisory Board. On the second, and what has proven much larger of an industry landmark, is McClure’s work with domestic produce commodity boards and, most importantly, establishing the first counter-season promotion of Chilean fruits.

“He had an inquisitive and inventive mind,” says Tom Tjerandsen, who with McClure partnered to form San Francisco-based McClure and Tjerandsen in 1991, albeit the two had by then known each other for well over a decade. “One of Barney’s biggest industry achievements was providing promotion for fresh produce, and helping to answer the question of who was going to pay for it – the Grower? Distributor? Retailer? The other was working to establish many of the first marketing programs for Chilean fruit exported to North America.”

McClure, who died in Atherton, California in 1996, was born in Atlanta. He was only six weeks old when his family moved to California’s Bay Area where his great-grandfather had planted a peach orchard in the state’s foothills back in the 1800s, and his grandfather started selling peaches at age 10. Like many of his generation, McClure took a different path. He graduated from Stanford University in 1942, was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps flying B24s during World War II and spent a year as a prisoner of war in Germany’s Stalag Luft III. An attack with mustard gas while in the POW camp damaged his lungs. This health blow would have dampened the determination of most men, but not McClure. He returned to the Bay area and embarked on a career promoting fresh produce.

“Conventional wisdom back then was for growers to grow the product and then forget about it,” says Tjerandsen. “In the 1950s, there was quite a bit of competition for fresh by processed and frozen products, and therefore fresh produce languished. Radio was the main advertising medium then. I think the first time was in the 1950s when he and Western Research Kitchens, which was also working on the California Peach Advisory Board account, did radio tags in the Los Angeles and San Francisco markets during peak shipping periods. Tagged radio has been a part of produce commodity promotions ever since.”

The late 50s and into the 60s and 70s saw marketing orders hit a heyday for several commodity crops. During these decades, McClure worked with the Idaho Potato Commission, The Potato Board, the Washington Apple Commission, the California Table Grape Commission and the California Strawberry Advisory Board, to name a few.

“I worked with Barney back when I was at Safeway,” says Don Harris, of Harris Consulting Solutions, who in the 1980s held a series of leadership positions including director of corporate produce merchandising and marketing for the Pleasanton, CA-headquartered retailer. “He’d come in with the biggest, newest promotion for whichever commodity board he worked for. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I mean that in a good way. That’s because he did his homework. It wasn’t about simply doing something, but why we should do it. He analyzed the risks and rewards. His goal was to increase overall consumption.”

One of these potential risks, unheard of at the time, says Harris, was McClure’s encouraging of Safeway to promote Chilean fruit. The Chilean Fruit Exporters Association (ASOEX) had approached McClure for his company’s help to find out what produce would sell best in North American markets and then coming up with a way to introduce this fruit. He first started with table grapes during the 1980-81 season and with a marketing budget of $110,000. Today, ASOEX, through the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, operates a multi-million dollar promotional program that covers Chilean stone fruit, berries, kiwifruit, cherries, apples and pears. Yet McClure is the one who took the first step in turning the concept of summer fruit in winter from a novelty to the norm.

David Holzworth worked with McClure when he became General Counsel to ASOEX in 1985. “A gentleman and a Scotsman, Barney McClure came to my attention in the early days in the development of the Chilean Winter Fruit campaign,” says Holzworth, who today is senior counsel for Holzworth & Kato, PC, in Washington, DC. “He worked tirelessly to make a very small promotional budget move a lot more fruit into the US. Barney also had an uncanny feel for the room and strongly identified with the work ethic of the Chilean industry.”

Perhaps the most serious obstacle overcome was the shutdown of the farm-to-fork chain resulting from a terrorist claim that table grapes from Chile were laced with cyanide. “Many so-called friends of Chile took flight. Not Barney,” says one period after Holzworth. “He stayed the course even though the funding basis of the promotional campaign depended on payments from consignment sales. And he went one step further: He became an integral part of the crisis management group and a steady voice in a time of panic. He was a man of his word.”

McClure ultimately spent 50 years in the advertising and produce marketing field, handling clients in five continents and 12 states. In addition to Chile, he also established the first promotion of New Zealand produce and developed the first trade program for both the New Zealand and California kiwi fruit industries. McClure also served as director of the Produce Marketing Association from 1977 to 1980. While today, pop-up timers still protrude from poultry when fully cooked, it will be McClure’s promotion of fresh produce, especially counter-seasonal products, that he will be most remembered as an industry Vanguard.

Bruce Taylor
Taylor Farms

Bruce Taylor didn’t intend to enter the produce industry, never mind be on the forefront of change that has driven what had been a commodity business to one increasingly capable of meeting specific consumer needs.
That’s just how it turned out.

Over the years, Taylor has combined what his family learned about the challenges of the produce industry and the course of his own career to establish a philosophy that incorporates striving, building, occasionally stumbling, learning and advancing while always keeping in mind that the produce industry is a community of common interests, best served by working together.

When he was starting out, Taylor’s family already was established in the produce business after his grandfather started a lettuce operation and his uncle and father built it further. But he got hooked after doing a summer job, then taking the opportunity to work in Italy, where he applied carbon dioxide to peaches being shopped to Marks & Spencer in the United Kingdom. The idea didn’t work out so well, but the experience set him on his career path in the produce business and as an innovator in his eventually chosen field.

With the goal toward finding innovation, particularly as a way to differentiate product offered, the stage was set for the development of what became Fresh Express.

The idea to add value to produce by using technology, in this case by adding breathable films to deliver a fresher product, started in the restaurant business and eventually translated into the Fresh Express enterprise after a series of innovations, improvements and modifications. By the late 1980s, Taylor says Fresh Express was dealing not only with the challenges of getting fresh prepared salad to stores but getting the product through to the consumer. That meant working with retailers on new fixturing that could maintain constant temperatures in open cases and so ensure freshness and ultimately consumer approval.

Even as it was providing a new way for consumers to enjoy salad, Fresh Express was helping change the model of how growers operated particularly in California, Taylor notes. Fresh Express brought a fixed-price approach to the Salinas Valley. “Salinas was all free-market growers,” says Taylor. “They never knew what returns would be. With the value-added business, we knew what the finished product price would be. We worked with the restaurants that wanted a fixed cost. So we would guarantee growers a market. It really stabilized the economics of the Salinas Valley. Growers could devote a certain amount of a crop to something they knew they could make money on and decide what to risk.”

The Fresh Express phase of Taylor’s career ended with a difference of opinion about the sale of the business. At that point, Taylor pondered the next phase of his professional life and began to take the measure of the possibilities before him.

“When I started over again, everyone said no one needed another packaged salad company,” he said. “I thought the opposite. A group of friends helped fund me, and that was gratifying. I was thinking about what I can do best, and these folks came to my rescue.”

Although it was also an element of the Fresh Express success, a key driving factor in the establishment of Taylor Farms was its customer-centric approach, Taylor says. From its start in 1995, the company actively reviewed and appraised what was in the marketplace and looked for gaps where need couldn’t connect with available product. As a consequence, Taylor built his new business by exploring avenues others didn’t want to tread, such as one to a plant in Florida nobody wanted, but his new enterprise rehabilitated.

Indeed, he started out initially identifying a couple of facilities he could use to serve the foodservice industry. As it turned out, Taylor Farms kept on picking up businesses so that now it has 17 plants in the United States.

Taylor also says he has been willing to change ownership structure strategically during the course of Taylor Farm’s evolution as a way of growing the company and bringing in new resources. Growth has been such that Taylor Fresh Foods/Taylor Farms is the largest fresh vegetable company in the world with annual revenue over $4.5 billion, he claims.

When considering his opportunities and contribution in, and to, the produce industry, technology is one of the key elements Taylor cites as applied to producing a fresh and convenient ready-to-eat product. However, it isn’t just the success of the product in and of itself that gives him satisfaction. Rather, Taylor says the introduction and acceptance of packaged produce was a help to his own enterprises, restaurants, and food retailers, but also to the produce industry in a broader sense. “Produce consumption increased,” he says, “and consumer demand for convenient, ready-to-eat salads increased. We helped build a more stable industry.”

The other major area where Taylor has played a leading role is food safety, particularly in his work launching SmartWash Solutions and as co-founder of the Center for Produce Safety. He says the work to ensure the safety of the products the produce industry offers, in all their various forms, is critical. “The produce has to be not only fresh and flavorful, but also has to be as safe as possible both for the sake of the industry and for the consumer. That’s what lets me sleep at night,” he said.

Another Vanguard, Bryan Silbermann, formerly of PMA, cited Taylor as instrumental in the initial funding of the Center for Produce Safety. “Bruce is a great strategic thinker,” he says. When a salmonella outbreak was linked to tomatoes, Silbermann noted, Taylor participated in a meeting of the PMA board where a discussion of the need for an industry-wide traceability initiative began. The participants agreed that the organization needed a senior retail leader. According to Silbermann, Taylor insisted that PMA and the United Fresh Produce Association reach out to a senior retail leader, more senior than a vice president of produce, who had organization-wide authority.

As a result, the first chair of the Produce Traceability Initiative leadership council was Cathy Green Burns, now PMA CEO, who at the time was Food Lion senior vice president of fresh merchandising and distribution, and later president of the banner.

Among other contributions, Silbermann also pointed to Taylor’s willingness to twice take a seat on the PMA board, once as chairman, as evidence of his dedication to the produce industry and the environs in which it works. Taylor also has been deeply involved with the Western Growers Association as a member of the board, including the 2021/2022 board, and as chairman.
In addition, Silbermann noted Taylor’s dedication to the city of Salinas, including his moving the company headquarters to the downtown area to help with its revitalization.

So, Bruce Taylor has been, throughout his career, a deeply involved member of a produce community that he has helped advance such that, today, it provides consumers more options and, so, more reasons to purchase fruits and vegetables, businesses, all the while boosting the produce industry’s prospects for the future.