Celebrating 35 Years — Vanguards Who Made a Difference: Lynda Resnick

Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Lynda Resnick, The Wonderful Company.

Originally printed in the April 2021 issue of Produce Business.

Lynda Resnick is truly an exceptional person, who has melded her phenomenal business and brand marketing acumen with her commitment to health and wellness, sustainability, and benevolence of giving back, to transform and lift the produce industry and thousands of people’s lives.

She, along with her husband Stewart, built the diverse $5 billion, privately-held Wonderful Company, a vertically integrated range of products, including fruits, nuts, flowers, water, wines and juices, and a family of powerful health-conscious brands. Perhaps Resnick is best known in the produce world for reinventing an entire produce category with POM Wonderful, which launched in 2002, and for upping the branding playing field.

Her marketing acumen was also displayed in clever national television commercials for the company’s pistachios, with towering, mobile merchandising setups and promotions, such as the innovative Wonderful Pistachios Get Crackin! marketing campaign, to eye-catching Wonderful Halos citrus tree displays at store entrances, drawing consumers into the produce department.

Resnick has earned the highest admiration and respect of those executives who have worked very closely with her over many years to help her realize her goals. “Lynda was a real leader in terms of converting commodities into brands,” says Michael Perdigao, president of the Wonderful Agency, the in-house, full-service advertising and communications arm, highly integrated in direct brand and product development leadership decisions.

“She strongly believed that something that was natural and grew on a tree could also have a personality and a powerful narrative behind it. Why were only things like chips and cereals allowed to have a personality? Whether it was Cuties, which was our original brand and one Lynda created — we now have the brand Halos — or Wonderful Pistachios or POM Wonderful… we still call Lynda the POM Queen, because that really was her baby,” adds Perdigao. “Lynda did everything from making the decision with her husband Stewart to try to sell 100 percent pomegranate juice, when only 12 percent of the US population knew what a pomegranate was. And then to do enough research to find out all the cultural, mythological, historical, health benefits, and the reverence all these other countries had for the pomegranate.”

When consultants were brought in to evaluate the product, they told Resnick she’ll never sell it, it’s too tart, the American palate will never go for this, and you’re going to have to add sugar. According to Perdigao, “She was adamant, ‘I will never add sugar,’ and she stuck to her guns, refusing to diminish the product’s health attributes, and here we are today, and it’s the most popular super juice…. In fact, it’s kind of the originator of the super juice category.”

When Resnick, who is considered hands-on with everything, drew out her original bottle design on a napkin to look like one pomegranate sitting on another, bottle manufacturers scoffed at the ability to mass produce it. “That’s one of the qualities that makes Lynda unique is her persistence and her perseverance. She and her husband like to say they’re not necessarily smarter than anybody else, although I would argue that, they attribute their success to the fact that they never accept no for an answer,” says Perdigao.

Among the most important things Resnick has done to help the industry, according to Perdigao, is making healthy produce brands cool and relevant. “Lynda has created these narratives and personalities for what were traditional commodities, and she makes the entire produce department more relevant, not just a functional section, but where all the fun is… not in the soda and chips aisle,” he says.

On a more personal nature, Resnick’s goal is to help America be healthier, and Wonderful invests in a lot of initiatives to bring down the rates of obesity and diabetes in this country, to motivate people with their diets to consume more produce, according to Perdigao. Starting with the company’s own employees, Resnick oversaw the integration of a new culture of wellness in the workplace, including nutritious, subsidized meals, and access to high-quality fresh fruits and vegetables for employees to take home to their families.

A crucial component in stemming the rise of obesity and diabetes is addressing the country’s poverty issues, and one of Resnick’s missions is to change the paradigm of poverty in the Central Valley, a primary agricultural community of farm workers and their families. According to Andy Anzaldo, COO of the company’s philanthropy division, “In this mission, she’s relentless and an incredible leader. What’s making the difference in these efforts is her personal commitment and fearlessness, and how she’s taken her business acumen in marketing and applied that to philanthropy,” says Anzaldo, reflecting on his relationship with Resnick in his 22 years at the company.

The heart of our work is really in three major areas: education, philanthropy, and community. Lynda realized early on that education is the most powerful weapon, and in the Central Valley there is a stark separation between those that have access to a good education and those that do not. It was all about leveling the playing field. It started with the Wonderful Scholar Program for students whoworked for Wonderful, now eclipsing 1,100 recipients — 90 percent the first generation in their family to go to college.

Resnick also opened up preschools that now help feed the Wonderful College Prep Academy, which has 2,400 K-12 students, two free public charter schools founded by the Resnick’s, highlighted by a $140 million investment. Today, 84 percent go on to a four-year college, a record number for Central Valley, the State of California and more broadly across the nation. “When it comes to agriculture, the children of farm workers have the right to the same opportunities,” says Anzaldo, who adds that it is hoped this model will be replicated in other areas around the country.

Through her company’s Ag Prep Program, Resnick has also been involved in steering students toward degrees in agriculture. In this case, with an associate’s degree in agriculture, graduates have a guaranteed job at the Wonderful Company starting at $35,000, through the Wonderful fellowship.

“Lynda is a visionary, and her ability to anticipate the future is something people who work with her are always so amazed and inspired by,” he says. “With her relentless commitment, we know we can achieve any goal or program she sets forth.”