Over the course of the year, we pay tribute to 35 living Vanguards and 12 departed heroes. This month’s featured Vanguard is Rich Dachman, Brighter Bites.
Originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.
Back when he was still earning gold stars in elementary school, Rich Dachman began working at his father’s produce distribution company in Denver. And to this day, he remains unequivocal about his most invaluable lesson — it’s all about one transaction at a time.
“I have never lost my fear of losing a customer,” says Dachman, former vice president of produce for Sysco Corp., Houston, and current CEO of Brighter Bites, a Houston-based nonprofit organization providing fresh produce and nutritional education to underserved families.
Dachman has a track record of innovation, risk taking and bottom-line results. He is widely regarded in the produce and foodservice industries for his integrity, mentorship, marketing savvy, inquisitive nature and an unwavering commitment to a healthier world.
“I would like to believe I’ve had some part of positioning fresh produce as having more purpose than just sales and profit,” says Dachman. “Instead, my goal was — and still is — to feed the world healthy, delicious food that positively impacts lives. I’ve also obsessed about finding innovative and more effective ways to transact and operate the business, while being sure to establish fair and mutually beneficial agreements with suppliers.
“I always asked my staff, ‘Why are we doing it this way? There has to be a better way in purchasing, logistics and sales.’ And we changed it all. I have been so fortunate to always have such a talented group around me.”
At the beginning, however, it was two trucks and father and son walking the wholesale market for product. When his dad sold the business, Dachman headed to Colorado State University, majoring in philosophy, but it would be only two years before produce beckoned once again.
“I needed a summer job, so I started a small produce business out of my dad’s pickup truck,” he says. “By the end of the summer, I had two trucks and a retail produce store and decided to take a semester off to run the business at 20 years old. It was a great experience for me, but after three years I went broke — one of my best lessons.”
Dachman then reteamed with his father, Perry Dachman, to start a produce business within a large broadline distributor, a business model that was quite novel in 1980. In five years, the company grew to become Denver’s produce distribution leader. Subsequently, the company was acquired by Kraft Foods, and two years later Dachman was promoted to national director of produce for Kraft Foodservice in Chicago.
A young Dachman soon realized, “No one knew anything about produce, so I was suddenly the expert, which I embraced.”
And he’s been embracing it ever since — throughout his Kraft years and to his next challenge at Freshpoint in Houston, where he signed on as president. Over the next eight years, he went on to manage the company’s buying office in Salinas and also ran its Denver and Atlanta distribution companies.
Following Sysco’s acquisition of Freshpoint in 2000, Dachman was promoted to executive vice president of the Western region at the Houston corporate office, and in 2006 he became vice president of produce for Sysco Corp. During his 28-year tenure with Freshpoint/Sysco, Dachman would take particular pride celebrating a milestone — becoming the largest produce distributor in North America. Dachman retired in 2019 and joined Brighter Bites.
Throughout Dachman’s produce journey, mentorship was part of his daily activities, and many who worked for him are now leaders in the industry, says Juliet Olivarria, vice president of produce for Sysco Corp.
“He surrounds himself with a very diverse group of advisers and associates,” says Olivarria. “He has a talent for bringing out the best in his team and drawing on each person’s unique strengths.”
Working in tandem with Dachman’s strong mentorship drive is a steady, committed and energetic leadership style that has served him well, earning him legions of fans.
As Vic Smith, president of the Yuma, AZ-based JV Smith Companies, observes, “I have always felt a great love for the produce business, but nothing compared to the passion Rich displays for our industry.”
Smith met Dachman when he joined the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) board of directors and Dachman was chairman. “I was very impressed with his ability to lead that board, which was a collection of some of the strongest personalities in our industry.”
Dachman’s incessant curiosity is highly regarded by industry peers. “Student is the word that comes to mind when I think of Rich,” says his friend of 30 years, Kent Shoemaker, president and CEO of Lipman Family Farms, based in Immokalee, FL. “Rich wants to know everything and everyone. He has never stopped learning. He learns, then he shares.”
Dachman has received numerous industry awards, including The Packer Foodservice Achievement Award, Center for Growing Talent’s inaugural Jay Pack Cultivating Our Future Award, Produce for Better Health’s Excellence Award and PMA’s Robert Carey Leadership Award.
Now, as the leader of Brighter Bites, Dachman is entrenched in a not-for-profit sphere that is “creating communities of health through fresh food.”
He discovered the organization through a feature story published in the Houston Chronicle about five years ago. “I was so impressed by the article, I called one of the founders, Lisa Helfman, and asked how can I help?”
Brighter Bites distributes 20-plus pounds of produce weekly to underserved families, focusing on elementary school children and their families. It also provides extensive nutrition education to break the cycle of poor diet and change eating behaviors.
Helfman, who is the founder of Brighter Bites as well as director of public affairs for H-E-B, Houston, says Dachman’s contributions to the organization in the past year and a half have been immeasurable.
“Rich has a heart for people, a mind for results and a drive that is unmatchable,” she says. “He could easily have retired after Sysco, but instead he is devoting his life to building Brighter Bites to help others. Who does that? Rich does.”
Helfman attests Dachman’s leadership is paying dividends. “Brighter Bites would not be on this growth trajectory without him. He makes us a better organization every single day. Given that we touch thousands of lives, it’s an incredible impact.”
To date, Brighter Bites has planted program roots in Houston, Washington D.C., Dallas, New York, Austin and Southwest Florida. But Dachman’s ambitions for the industry are not limited to one organization.
“My dream for the produce industry is to substantially increase produce consumption by coming together as one industry and centrally funding a massive marketing campaign that would compete with the huge CPG companies.
“We have the best product in the world — it tastes good, is good for you, and it’s affordable. We just need to get people to want it like they want Oreos, and I truly believe it can be done.”