Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Doug Grant of The Oppenheimer Group
Originally printed in the August 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Doug Grant is considered an unsung hero in the business of fresh produce. The executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Vancouver, British Columbia (BC)-headquartered The Oppenheimer Group (Oppy) up until is retirement on July 31, Grant has not always been in the spotlight. However, his work and his achievements, both in the areas of information technology (IT) and produce safety, have catapulted the entire fresh fruit and vegetable industry forward over the past quarter century.
John Anderson, chairman, chief executive officer and managing partner of Oppy, says Grant has demonstrated strong produce leadership through his involvement with various committees and industry associations. Some key areas Grant has led are e-commerce, food safety and product traceability.
“His extensive and ongoing work as the chair of the Produce Traceability Initiative’s Knowledge Transfer Task Force is one of his most impactful contributions to moving the industry forward in the right direction,” says Anderson.
He adds Grant was instrumental in helping develop a proprietary, in-house IT system, “which gave Oppy a real competitive advantage, which still exists today.”
Grant, who had previously worked with the BC Automobile Association, joined Oppy in 1995 as an IT director. His responsibility was to manage the company’s computer systems. This was a time when the computer revolution was taking place: email was new, and produce businesses in that era worked through phone calls, duplicate paper forms and fax machines.
Six months after he was hired as an IT director, Grant hired Steve Roosdahl, Oppy’s current vice president of operations, for a small team tasked with developing a new computer system to manage operations and sales. Six months into the project — at the start of the Chilean season — the company needed to shut off the legacy systems and turn on the new system, which had less than half of the functionality required to run the business, Roosdahl says.
“This was a tough decision and many staff in the company were running a little blind as they learned the new systems,” he adds. “There was a lot of turmoil.”
“Doug took all the frustration and turmoil and provided clear and concise marching orders for the development team, blocking out all the disturbances,” Roosdahl recalls, adding Grant provided insight to align with new ideas being developed around product coding and e-commerce.
Grant’s job expanded to oversee Oppy’s entire supply chain, quality control, food safety and sustainability, or as he puts it, “everything it takes to move the product from their farms through the supply chain to the retail or foodservice distribution center.”
He was appointed chief information officer in 2003, and the following year, Grant received the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s (CPMA) Produce Man of the Year Award. In 2006, he was promoted to vice president and chief operations officer and in 2014, he advanced to the position of executive vice president and chief operating officer.
It’s a big job: Oppy is a produce giant that brings to market some 50 million cartons of fresh produce annually, and represents growers from 27 countries. Yet, true to form, Grant doesn’t shy away from doing more. Last year, he spearheaded an adopt-a-highway initiative in Peru, working with local partner organizations to create a cleaner, more sustainable environment for workers and their families.
Grant is co-chair of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI) and a board member of the Center for Produce Safety (CPS). It was in 2018 that CPS formed the Knowledge Transfer Task Force, intending to disseminate research results on produce safety across the supply chain. Grant is chair of this task force, and, as such, he authors several articles a year on various aspects of food safety.
“Amazingly, Doug stepped up to not only lead this task force, but to write its articles, in addition to all of his responsibilities at Oppy,” says Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, executive director of the Woodland, CA-based CPS.
In June 2020, Grant hosted a webinar session of the MacKay CEO Forums. In his presentation, Be Bold Best Practices Session: Food Industry, Grant started with an overview of the industry and Oppy, then examined the industry best practices and how they’ve evolved during the pandemic. Attendees included C-level executives from the food industry, as well as other executives.
Post-retirement, Grant will remain on PMA’s Board of Directors until October, and with The Center for Produce Safety Executive and Knowledge Transfer Task Force through 2022, maybe longer, as he plans to write more on food safety for the industry and possibly do some consulting work. Beyond that, he and his wife look forward to summering at their lake house near Vernon, BC, and wintering in Palm Springs, CA, playing lots of golf in both places.