Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Reggie Griffin, The Kroger Company (retired) / Reggie Griffin Strategies, LLC.
Originally printed in the March 2021 issue of Produce Business.
From produce clerk to corporate vice president of produce and floral merchandising, Reggie Griffin is best known for his 40-plus year career with the Kroger Co. Now, and since 2013, at the helm of his consultancy, Reggie Griffin Strategies, LLC, Griffin has proven himself a man of many talents and a professional who has helped to move forward and make lasting positive changes at many levels of the fresh produce industry.
“Reggie’s candor and direct approach to tough industry challenges and issues are one of the many things that make him unique and special,” says Steve Grinstead, chief executive officer of the FreshEdge, in Indianapolis, IN. “If you looked up Vanguard in the dictionary, you may well see a picture of Reggie Griffin.”
It’s fair to say Griffin has had fresh fruits and vegetables flowing through his veins for nearly his entire life. He was age 16 when he took his first job as a part-time produce clerk and bagger at his hometown Kroger store in Paris, TN. Instead of finding food retailing, and fresh produce specifically, as a means to the end of paying for his bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Management from the University of Memphis, he found his initial employment the start to a long and successful career.
At the time of his retirement from Kroger, Griffin headed a team responsible for over $7 billion in produce and floral sales for what is then and now the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. and second-largest food retailer in the nation after Walmart.
“I first started my lifetime friendship with Reggie in the ’80s,” adds Grinstead. “We were part of a group that worked toward rejuvenating the Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association. Reggie’s position with Kroger, along with his passion for the industry, was refreshing and contagious. He continued with his progressive approach to his role at Kroger and the industry throughout his career.”
Michael J. Cavallero, the retired former president, North America Tropical Fresh Fruit for the Charlotte, NC-headquartered Dole Fresh Fruit company, has also been a longtime friend and college of Griffin. “I interacted with Reggie for many years beginning when he was leading the Produce Division of the Houston Kroger Division and throughout his various positions at Kroger headquarters. The relationship between buyers and sellers was different than today. There was an awareness to develop long time personal working relationships. Depending on the item, prices were negotiated on a daily/weekly basis, and people worked together for a long period of years. Organizing and planning were important to Reggie. With this in mind, we worked together on merchandising ideas, transportation savings, pricing/costs/promotions, etc. He knew how to talk to us.”
Cavallero continues, “In our later working years, the buying/selling business started to change with more contract pricing becoming the new norm. Reggie once again was very fair in dealing with this concept. The next big change for the industry was technology and the department moving to be more data-driven. Reggie and Kroger were among the first retailers to adopt this process, and it changed the way buyers and sellers interacted with one another. More information was now being shared to make better decisions.”
Beyond the intricacies of buying and selling, Griffin, and Kroger, were among the leading retailers to link eating fresh produce to good health especially for future customers.
“At Dole, good nutrition and produce consumption were a major concern of our owner. Our nutritional department began an ‘adopt a school’ program for a local retailer to join with a secondary school to learn about good nutrition. Reggie was one of the first to join the program in Houston and have young school children visit a retail store to be shown the benefits of produce. As a follow-up, Reggie was invited to speak at a Dole upper-management meeting regarding the program,” adds Cavallero.
Notable industry involvement has been some of Griffin’s efforts as a fresh produce professional. “Reggie would always step up to the plate for the good of the industry,” says FreshEdge’s Grinstead. “I remember one time where there was a push to eliminate the PACA protection by some retail groups. Reggie supported what he thought would be best for the industry versus just supporting his industry segment. This was a difficult position for him to take in his position, but he stayed true to his values and did the right thing.”
On an industrywide level, and in addition to his Kroger role, Griffin has proved to be a major force, says Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, headquartered in Washington, DC (and another Vanguard honoree). “Reggie has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of United Fresh and the Produce For Better Health Foundation, and he also served on the Board of the Produce Marketing Association. He was a strong voice for retail in all of those volunteer leadership roles, but not just by throwing his weight around. He helped everyone understand the importance of retail/supplier collaboration to grow value for the consumer.”
Griffin has been incredibly generous with his time regarding all the regional and national industry associations, including Western Growers, the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC) and The New York Produce Show, etc., according to FreshEdge’s Grinstead.
“He has also mentored countless young people that were progressing in the produce industry,” Grinstead adds. “We worked together most closely while we both volunteered in leadership roles for United Fresh. Additionally, we have teamed up for many years participating with the Cornell Executive Leadership Development Program. Reggie is an awesome leader and an excellent role model for emerging leaders in our industry.”
Today, Griffin continues with his passion for produce as a consultant and avid home cook. Otherwise, you’ll find him on the golf course.