The Class of 2020: 40-Under-Forty


Winners of the Produce Business annual 40-Under-Forty awards program should be truly honored because they were chosen by their fellow industry mentors. Our team conducted an extensive, widespread search to elicit nominations for top young leaders. The search involved communication with thousands of industry executives along the entire supply chain.
This year’s winners are exemplified by an outstanding array of community involvement. They have demonstrated an extremely high degree of giving back to the people and places that have helped them reach their current positions.

We had far more nominations than we could use. If you were not chosen this year or if you nominated someone who was not selected, please understand that the process was highly selective, and we encourage you to re-submit updated nominations for next year’s competition. We encourage everyone to continually alert Produce Business of well deserving candidates and to help praise and support future produce movers and shakers as we look forward to honoring 40-Under-Forty leaders in 2021.

Sarah Alvernaz, 38

General Manager/Sales
California Sweet Potato Growers
Livingston, CA

Alvernaz is responsible for the sales, marketing and managing of the day-to-day activities at California Sweet Potato Growers, including the finances and food safety programs. She is credited with having extensive knowledge of the industry. She began in the industry at Famous Software in 2005 in sales. In her position, she dealt with various aspects of the produce business from the inside out, top to bottom, and across many different commodities. After Famous, she took a position in 2007 as marketing coordinator for California Tree Fruit Agreement where she built relationships with many of the growers in the Central Valley, helped coordinate marketing materials for both domestic and international programs, and wrote many marketing communications. In 2008, she received an offer to become general manager of California Sweet Potato Growers. A position she has held, along with sales, for Cal Sweet for more than 10 years. Through efficiency, and production changes she has increased net profits more than 900 percent and has grown volume sales by more than 30 percent. She is an active member of the California Sweetpotato Council, serving on the marketing sub-committee, and helping organize the annual convention. For the past two years she has represented the California Sweetpotato Council in Washington D.C. where she not only lobbies for the interests of sweet potato growers but the entire agriculture industry.

Hobbies: Baking, Decorating cakes/cookies

Personal/Community: Married, three children, Japanese Farm-Family exchange program through Niigata Agricultural University

Motto in life: “Give grace to receive grace. Often times that leaves the door open for future positive relationships.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
From a young age I was passionate about agriculture and knew I wanted to be in agri-business. I was very active in many agricultural organizations in high school and college, including FFA, Ag-Business Management (ABM), Farm Bureau, and part of a National winning Food Distribution Research Society team at Cal Poly. My first career opportunity came after a Cal Poly ABM meeting where Amy Gates, who was with Famous Software at the time (now President of Frontera) recruited me to work in Sales.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Produce is very much like Wall Street — some decisions are calculated and some are very much emotional reactions. I would tell my younger self to recognize patterns, and trust your intuition.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud that I took over a company at 26 and increased our profits and efficiencies. I am proud to cultivate relationships with customers and other industry members. I am proud to represent a brand that is known for quality. I am proud to use my experience at California Tree Fruit Agreement to help guide the marketing program for the California Sweetpotato Council, our voluntary industry organization.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
I knew Cal Sweet was my home when I was able to use all of my skills, from sales, to accounting, marketing, production management, conflict resolution, and more. Though, my aha moment came when I was able to build genuine relationships with my customers. It’s easy to make a produce sale (if you are priced below the market). The true gift is making the most for your growers. Each sale is about the health and sustainability of our industry and our growers who have been farming for generations. Building a customer base that supports that is essential to long-term success.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I have many goals for myself and Cal Sweet with lots of growth potential. There’s no other place I would rather be. I know I have more to learn and more to give. Once my children are a little older, I look forward to the opportunities to give back outside of my company through leadership and community involvement. For now my titles of Mom, general manager, farm wife/co-owner keep me pretty busy.

Brandon Bentley, 36

Category Business Manager–Vegetables
Tops Markets
Williamsville, NY

Bentley started as a cart associate for Tops Markets in 2001 while in high school. After graduating, he continued to work full-time while attending college night classes. He was an assistant produce manager during one of the company’s largest remodels ever completed while staying open. By 2007, he was one of the youngest produce managers ever promoted and began moving to manage ascending volume stores. In 2015, Bentley was recognized as the United Fresh Produce Manager of the Year. He also became a key trainer for perishables and other company initiatives, managing impeding time lines with large groups of associates from the company. He proceeded to open ground-up builds and become a liaison to company mergers.

After being promoted to store operations management in 2016, Bentley oversaw 165 associates in a grand opening setting. He finally returned to his produce roots when he was tasked to be produce specialist, leading 31 stores in teaching, training and mentoring with respect to merchandising and department operations. In mid-2016, he became the category business manager of fruit, where he was able to extend his knowledge of the intricacies from the corporate side managing more than 170 stores. After a two year run as a CBM of fruit, a vacancy arose to round out his bottom-to-top retail produce career as CBM of vegetables. His industry professional accomplishments include Tops East Region Produce Manager of the Year 2015 and graduating from the Cornell University Executive Development Program 2017. Bentley also spearheads company involvement in the annual Golisano’s Children’s Hospital Golf Tournament and has coordinated the Farm to Fork initiative on behalf of Tops Produce. He coordinates fresh produce donations to charitable causes such as Taste of Buffalo, Taste of Syracuse and Taste of Rochester, and Tops 5k Run for Roswell.

Hobbies: Golf, Driving, Family Board Games, Outdoor activities

Personal/Community: Married, two daughters

Motto in life: “To lead the people, walk with them.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Growing up in a farm community like Kendall, NY, the job options were pretty scarce. I could have worked as a dishwasher at the local watering hole or taken advantage of the local Tops Markets. The only job they had available at the time was a cart associate. My dad always told me if you are going to do something “do it right,” so I always came in early and asked for more work on my days off. Store management began to move me to multiple departments as a helper and then presented me with the options of overnight baker, meat clean-up, or produce. I was used to seeing fresh meat and I did like donuts but the beauty of produce made it an easy answer. Where else can you paint such a pretty picture? I knew I wasn’t an artist, but I sure could create a work of art with the colors of fruits and vegetables.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud of the relationships I have built and the ability to get product in a time of need for our customers. Even saying something like “our customers” is vague. These customers are your friends, families and neighbors and because of the values I was brought up with, I am able to keep them supplied with fresh fruit and vegetables during this unprecedented time.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Produce is a give and take industry. Everyone in the food chain needs to make money and being a bully is not good for business. Always asking to lower FOBs or to take more new products on will eventually result in cracks in the relationship. It is those relationships that are the true core to being successful in this industry.

Chris Blanford, 38

Senior Director, Marketing
Litehouse, Inc.
Sandpoint, ID

Since joining Litehouse in 2017, Blanford has had an enormous impact on not just the marketing strategy but the overall business strategy for the company. His data-driven marketing approach has helped Litehouse explore new tactics with proven ROI, and contributed to the company’s market position. Due to his phenomenal track record, Blanford was promoted from director of digital marketing to senior director of marketing in 2019, where he is now responsible for establishing marketing vision, overseeing brand management, innovation, category management, market research, creative services and consumer marketing.

Blanford began his career, after being graduated from the University of Idaho, at Coldwater Creek, where he supported the growth of the retail and online business through management of direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns. After four years, he transitioned to the agency side of the business world spending six years working at full service marketing agencies leading cross-functional teams in developing communication and testing strategies to drive customer retention and engagement. In 2014, he joined Kochava, a software as a service (SaaS) based solution that helps marketers measure and optimize marketing campaigns across connected devices. At Kochava, he held the roles of director of client services and senior director of marketing where he was responsible for the outbound marketing strategy of the company. In 2017, he joined Litehouse as the director of digital marketing before being promoted in 2019 to his current position.

Hobbies: Skiing, Hiking, Boating, Mountain Biking

Family/Personal/Community: Married, two children, Board of Directors–Panhandle Alliance for Education

Motto in life: “Stay positive. Positivity fosters creativity, and creativity shines light on new opportunities.”

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
That it is okay to admit you don’t know something. Embrace your knowledge gaps as an opportunity to better yourself by asking questions.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
What I’m most proud of is that my career progression has come through hard work and treating others with respect and compassion; not by putting down or stepping on others to get ahead.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
We are seeing a consumer trend toward transparency in food — from source of ingredients to how products went from farm to table. Transparency will become a lifeline to relevancy and profits for many CPG brands and those that lean into transparency early will come out ahead.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
In my opinion the biggest change came with Amazon’s announcement that it was acquiring Whole Foods in June of 2017. This was perhaps the single greatest event in modern history to send a shock-wave through the CPG industry. It was this announcement that took the notion of e-commerce grocery shopping at scale from a concept to a reality.

Q: Which social media platform for business do you use the most and why?
I am all about LinkedIn. It’s such a powerful way to stay connected not only to others in the industry, but with partners from earlier in my career such as advertising or PR agencies.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
Inspiring those just entering the industry to push the envelope and challenge the status quo.

Brett Britz, 29

Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Sunwest Fruit Company, Inc.
Parlier, CA

Coming from a third-generation farming family, Britz started working at Sunwest in 2011 after graduating from UC Irvine. He began in a sales assistant type role gathering samples, doing order entry, and monitoring inventories. About a year later, he moved into sales where he was mostly involved in new account acquisition. Eventually, he was given a few house accounts, which he continues to manage. During his time in sales, he has grown business with key retail accounts and has been instrumental in new protocols and procedures within sales/production to enable efficiencies within the company. In 2015, he transitioned into a role where he served as a liaison to provide direction for sales, harvest, and packing in addition to handling certain key accounts. He was also involved in varietal selection for future plantings on both citrus and stone fruit and new equipment purchases to drive packaging innovation and mechanize packing. He was promoted to the position of vice president, sales and marketing in 2019, where he manages more than $150 million of fresh fruit sales annually. He also oversees procurement of packaging material and is responsible for all new product development.

Hobbies: Fitness, Cooking, Sports

Personal/Community: Works with Collaborative for Fresh Produce

Motto in life: “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
It’s not what you don’t know that will hurt you, it’s what you don’t know that you think you know.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
I’m an introvert and being involved in sales forced me to get outside my comfort zone when I began cold calling customers.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I helped our company win Produce Supplier of the Year with one of our key partners.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
More diversity.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Provide innovative packaging.

Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of a career in the produce industry today?
It’s a 24/7 business, which makes work/life balance challenging.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
When I realized I wake up every day and am excited to head into the office.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Water. Additional mechanization will likely come, but water technology has a long way to go to solve the issues facing farming in certain areas of the country.

Q: How has the industry (or you) changed during your tenure?
I am seeing more diversity in the workforce than when I first started and I find that to be a very exciting thing. I’m hopeful for greater diversity as we continue to progress as an industry.

Q: What has shocked or surprised you about the produce industry?
How small of a community it really is. The fruit and vegetable world, for feeding as many people as we do, is a very tiny world.

Michael Brown, 39

Director, Category
Management – Produce
Sysco Corporation
Houston, TX

Brown started in the industry in 2009, when he joined Sysco West Texas as a marketing associate, selling produce as one of 12 broadline categories. In 2011, he was transferred to FreshPoint Dallas, initially starting as a sales associate for the Produce Redistribution Center (PRDC) and advancing to PRDC sales manager in 2013. In 2015, Brown was asked to again return to Sysco in a hybrid role as director of produce. In this role, he was responsible for finalizing the company’s fold-in of FreshPoint Arizona into the Sysco Arizona Produce Operation. Brown oversaw produce sales, procurement, and operations for the combined operation for three years, receiving a number of corporate and customer awards for excellence. In 2018, Brown was promoted to produce market director-pacific where he provided leadership and support to produce category managers and planners in each of the Market’s 14 operating companies. Under his leadership the Market excelled, winning Market of the Year following his first full year in the position. This April, Brown began a new position with the company as director of category management for produce. In this national role working from the Sysco Los Angeles-Market offices, Brown is tasked with managing category assortment and vendor compliance, developing marketing and promotional opportunities, and enhancing supplier relations through innovation, sales growth, and issue resolution.

Hobbies: BBQ, Visiting National Parks with family

Personal/Community: Married, two sons

Motto in life: “If you are not having fun, why bother? Go home, regroup, and come back when you’re ready to enjoy life.”

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
For me, the most challenging aspect of our business early on was trying to understand all the small pieces that fit into the big picture. There are so many commodities that make up our industry, each following its own markets and each dealing with its own challenges and nuances. One of my first roles in produce was essentially to be a “produce expert,” and to help broadline sales reps to sell the category. As I was still learning myself, this was quite the challenge. Thankfully, I had a few experts of my own to lean on.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
About five years ago, I was asked to move from Texas to Arizona to finalize and then oversee the combination of two of our company’s produce programs. Essentially we were folding in sales and operations from our Phoenix-based specialty produce company into the Sysco Broadline Company. Within several months, operations were stable, we re-trained the sales team and began to see improved sales.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Focus on people. It is the people in our industry that make our industry so special. Get to know them. Get to know your associates, your grower/shippers, your carriers, and of course your customers. With every decision you make, whether as an associate or as a leader, never lose sight of the impact of that decision on the people that have to execute or endure it.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
We have to do a better job of making produce appealing to our children, and that starts in the schools. There is plenty of focus on including fruits and vegetables in school lunches, but seemingly little focus on making those fruits and vegetable tasty. We’ve been successful in getting our products on the plate. We need to figure out how to get kids to clean that plate and go back for seconds. I know there are many examples of programs out there trying to accomplish this. Houston based, Brighter Bites is one such organization that is proudly supported by Sysco.

Andrew Casserly, 39

Director, East Region
Robinson Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN

Casserly began his produce career in December of 2003 at C.H. Robinson in Cleveland, OH, as an account manager. Early on in his career, incredible mentors invested in his development and taught him various aspects of the produce business and supply chains. He quickly developed a diverse customer base that accelerated his knowledge and expertise in the produce industry. In 2008, Casserly became a key account manager, and relocated to the C.H. Robinson Pittsburgh office. His role was to help develop new employees and add new customers to his existing portfolio. In 2013, he relocated again to the Philadelphia area office as key account and again was involved and training new account managers. In 2017, Casserly completed the prestigious Key Account Sales Program offered by C.H. Robinson and was part of the winning team in the KASP Cup Challenge. He was promoted to director, East Region for Robinson Fresh in 2019, where he is responsible for managing a group of account managers and helping them build business and new opportunities. Casserly also works with the Robinson Fresh business development team in meeting with prospective customers.

Hobbies: Sports, Spending time with family and friends, Coaching youth sports, travelling

Personal/Community: Married, three children, Member of Church of the Incarnation

Motto in life: “Always shoot for the moon, because if you miss, at least you will be among the stars.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
When I graduated college in May of 2003, I started working as a restaurant manager for Eat ‘n Park in Cleveland, OH. I was exposed to several facets of the restaurant business early on, but I was instantly fascinated with the produce aspect. Every time I called in our orders to our supplier, I always asked about the current markets, trends, and anything exciting that was up and coming. We ran a salad bar at the restaurant, so it was essential to always have fresh fruits and vegetables for the customers. In late fall of 2003, I saw a job posting to work for C.H. Robinson on the produce side of the business, and I applied right away. My first day working for C.H. Robinson was December 31, 2003.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
I went to visit my grandma after I had been working for C.H. Robinson for five months. She had a bag of Tropicana oranges sitting in her kitchen, and I told her that I was responsible for selling those to the grocery store where she shops. She was incredibly fascinated with how I described the entire supply chain and was amazed with the passion that I had in my explanation. It was then I realized how cool it was that my family members were buying the product that I was supplying to the grocery stores on a daily basis. After I left her house, I called all my friends to go buy some of the oranges I helped get into the stores.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
2020 will go down as one of the most challenging years we will ever experience in our lifetimes. I truly believe adversity brings out the best in people. It will be very interesting to see how several businesses are able to respond to the disastrous pandemic. It will undoubtedly have a long-lasting effect on life as we know it, but how we respond to this challenge is paramount to our successes in the industry.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Put a stronger focus on off-grade produce. Consumers need to be educated that if a piece of produce is not visually perfect, it still has value. If we offered that product at a discount, we can increase consumption through several different avenues.

Ricardo Echeverri, 38

Vice President of Tropicals
Fyffes North America Inc.
Coral Gables, FL

Echeverri has dedicated his professional career to developing the tropicals category within the U.S. market through programs with excellent quality and pricing. In his position at Fyffes (formerly Turbana Corporation), he manages the entire tropicals program from procurement to sales. In his first year managing the Turbana/Fyffes tropical program, it grew more than 300 percent in revenue resulting in an increase of offerings from 3 to 18 products. He has developed relationships with different growers in Mexico, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Colombia and Florida.

He began his produce career 13 years ago as an assistant product manager at Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc. and was responsible for the procurement and logistics for the Melon Program. While in this role, he gained exposure to the sales and purchasing organization and soon had the opportunity to play an integral part in key sourcing and business transactions. Five years later, he was recruited by Bounty Fresh — a leader in the pineapple business. In addition to selling its pineapple program nationwide, he was brought on board to develop and run the plantain program, which was the newest and premier product offering. His team grew the business from selling three containers per week to selling 14 containers per week (3.5 x in volume) in less than 18 months. As Bounty Fresh was rapidly gaining market share on plantains and industry competitors were taking notice, he was approached in 2013 by Turbana Corporation and offered a senior leadership role as the head of its tropical program. As vice president of tropicals, he restructured the entire program by sourcing directly from growers in Central and South America. Under his direction, the tropical program has grown more than 30 percent each year for the past six years and he continues to focus on expanding it.

Hobbies: Tennis, Running, Exercising, Reading

Personal/Community: Single, St Agnes Catholic Church

Motto in life: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
A few months prior to graduating from Mercer University’s MBA program, I began exploring opportunities in Miami, one of my favorite cities. I came across an opportunity that piqued my interest with Del Monte Fresh Produce and was excited with the idea of working in retail and, particularly, within the fruits and vegetables product category. The connectivity between healthy products and a healthy lifestyle is something I have long been passionate about. I applied for the job but, unfortunately, they required someone to begin immediately and this did not work for me in regards to timing leaving the university. After graduation, I decided to move to Miami and continue to pursue opportunities at Del Monte, among other companies, as some time had passed. I reconnected with the hiring department and to my excitement, the same position had become available. This time I landed the role. I consider myself fortunate to have started my career within such a great company and had the opportunity to learn the business from one of the best in the industry.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Our industry needs to focus on being more on the forefront of recruiting, particularly with younger professionals who can bring with them a new mindset and really be disruptive (such as online produce development). I think it is safe to say that our industry is not seen with the same glamour as those in big city upscale offices. However, there is so much more to the industry that makes it rewarding as much as the perceived financial compensation. For example, we get to travel all over the world and work directly with local farmers and growers — the individuals who provide nourishment to a large portion of the population.

Nikki Ford, 37

Senior Director of Nutrition
Avocado Nutrition Center
Hass Avocado Board
Mission Viejo, CA

Dr. Ford has been instrumental in creating and running the nutritional research program at the Hass Avocado Board, and has directed and led the research on the health benefits of avocados. This has turned a once maligned fruit into being seen as a healthy super fruit and heart-healthy by the American Heart Association. She has been the senior director of nutrition since 2013 at the Avocado Nutrition Center (ANC) — the world’s only independent resource for avocado nutrition research. Without these programs, research into the health benefits of eating avocado simply wouldn’t exist. Her programs ensure a continuous stream of relevant and motivating health research about avocados while maintaining the highest scientific standards.

Before joining the ANC, Ford was involved in medical research at the University of Texas at Austin. Her career has focused on understanding the health benefits of consuming fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. She holds a B.S. in animal bioscience from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science and a Certificate in Business Management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has authored more than 40 scientific publications and regularly speaks at scientific and health professional meetings.

Hobbies: Reading, Hiking, Traveling, Visiting National Parks

Personal/Community: Married, one child

Motto in life: “Lead a FRUITFULL life.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I officially joined the produce industry in 2013 with my role at the Hass Avocado Board. Still, I’ve been working with and supporting the fresh produce industry throughout my entire career by working to understand better how foods reduce the risk of disease.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
As there was more or less no research into the health advantages of eating avocados, we had to make our best guess at potential benefits by looking at the nutrients found in an avocado. So we had to take calculated risks. It would have been great to have more data to inform our decision process early in the development of the research pipeline. Even today, we’re often assuming potential health benefits based upon similar foods, like nuts and olives, which have decades of health research.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I obtained industry support for a large translational clinical research trial that includes 1,000 people enrolled at multiple research sites in the U.S. Working with world-renowned scientists, we’ve designed the Habitual Diet and Avocado Trial (HAT) that has no match in the fresh food industry. The study asks the critical question of whether eating avocados can reduce belly fat while looking at many other relevant health effects.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
The avocado industry stands behind the avocado nutrition program and is committed to improving health through research without interfering in the scientific process. Consumers, health professionals, and scientists should turn to the Avocado Nutrition Center for legitimate avocado nutrition information.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
In the past seven years, we’ve grown the avocado nutrition research portfolio from a few rudimentary studies towards a reputable scientific research pipeline that will stand the test of scrutiny and time. We had some huge wins after the avocado industry committed to investing in the nutrition programs because now avocados can be marketed as heart-healthy and containing fiber, vitamin K, and other essential nutrients.

Eric Frasse, 38

Vice President of Sales
I Love Produce LLC
West Grove, PA

Frasse started his career in produce in 2010 with I Love Produce as business development manager. He rose to his current position of vice president of sales through his tenacious drive and phenomenal interpersonal skills. His leadership of the sales and marketing departments helps steer the company to innovate, leading to continued success. He is credited with making a distinct impact on the success of I Love Produce through developing new markets and diversifying the company’s customer portfolio. He was also instrumental in initiating the company’s current food safety program.
He has volunteered for the PMA Membership Committee for three years, serving as a team captain. He has been on the Fresh Summit Exhibitor Committee for the past four years. He is involved as a career ambassador with the Center for Growing Talent, working with college students to help them discover opportunities within the produce industry. He is a graduate of the PMA Emerging Leaders Program.

Hobbies: Running, traveling, eating out at new interesting restaurants.

Personal/Community: Married, one son

Motto in life: “Grind, Grind, and Grind some more.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I came from the construction industry in 2008, when the housing market crashed. When I was looking for a new job, I focused on areas that I knew would be recession proof and landed in produce.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
The schedule is the most difficult aspect to get used to in the beginning. This is not a nine to five job and you will work weekends, nights, holidays and vacations. Everything we do has a sense of urgency and needs to be taken care of right away. It’s just the nature of the beast.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
My team and I helped to grow I Love Produce into what we are today. I helped build our brand within the industry and initiated the food safety program.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Getting younger generations to choose to produce as a career. The PMA has done a lot to not only promote the produce industry to younger generations, but also to retain them. I’d like to see more of a push overall from the whole industry to accomplish this goal.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Don’t stop learning! If you think you know it all, then you’ll stop growing. Soak up as much information as you can in and out of the industry. Talk to people and learn from their experiences. Just have an open mind and be willing to learn anything new. This will help you think outside the box and carry you through your career.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Promoting for children and teens to eat healthier is always a good start. The habits they pick up now will most likely stay with them through adulthood.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
Six years ago, we were exhibiting at an industry show and a group of five retailers stopped by our booth to speak with me about my product. They were rapid firing all sorts of questions at me and without any hesitation I was able to answer everything they asked. I provided accurate information with ease. After that encounter, I truly felt accomplished and happy in my career. I’m a professional in the produce industry.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I will be a CEO one day.

Justin Garibaldi, 39

Category Director
Loblaw Companies Ltd
Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

Garibaldi has 23 years of extensive experience within the Canadian produce industry including store level retail, quality assurance, supply chain, retail merchandising and wholesale procurement. He started his career in 1997 at Zehrs (now part of the Loblaw family) in Kitchener at 15 years old while looking for a steady job to get him through college. Since then, he has held various positions throughout all levels of the business. For the past 10 years, he has been category director in both merchandising and procurement where he has developed many strong relationships, both internally and within the grower community. He was awarded Passion for Produce in 2010 and was honored to represent Loblaw as a future leader. As a category leader, he has successfully developed, coached, and mentored two merchants into category directors as well as two associate merchants into merchants.

Garibaldi has consistently pushed the envelope and raised the benchmark on produce quality and availability, driving better assortment and value to the Canadian produce consumer. He has also leveraged his strong leadership skills to develop his team. During his tenure at Loblaws, he sourced and negotiated Canada’s first $1.00 1-pound Strawberry promotion in 2011, developed new shipping lanes to reduce transit time on bananas and reduce overall cost of shipping, and led and managed a local-focused Grown Close to Home marketing program for four years. He has championed initiatives to drive procurement direct to the grower source, reducing middle men, handling and dwell time of the product and ultimately driving better freshness and value to the end customer. He also implemented berry refrigeration initiatives across an entire division of stores resulting in savings in shrink and improvement in product quality and shelf life. He developed and introduced a series of innovative and impactful items to the Canadian market including President’s Choice Green House Grown Strawberries, President’s Choice Flavor Burst Blueberries and President’s Choice Orri Mandarins.

Hobbies: Hockey, Baseball

Personal/Community: PC Children’s Charity

Motto in life: “Live life well.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My grandfather was also a produce buyer for National Grocers back in the 1960s and 1970s along with my great grandfather who had a fruit stand in Italy. So it’s been in my roots for centuries.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I had the insight and vision when I first started to see the opportunity of local and what it means to our Canadian consumer. I mean recognizing everything from selling and marketing locally grown produce to supporting and building long term sustainable relationships with local growers to help build affordable, best tasting, quality produce for our consumer.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
My greatest challenge was the transition from stores to office. I enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with customers and had built many relationships through the years. Not having that on a daily basis was difficult. Although the realization soon came when I saw the impact I had from the office and how I was servicing our consumers indirectly. Sourcing and providing value and consistent quality produce day in and day out was very rewarding.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
One of my greatest accomplishments was being awarded the Passion for Produce award in 2010. At the time I was very young, driven and eager to progress to the category director level and this was affirmation for me —knowing was meant to do. Passion for Produce was a great program and I was honored to represent Loblaw as a future leader.

Robin Graham, 36

General Manager
Stemilt Ag Services
Wenatchee, WA

Graham is a rising star at Stemilt and in the industry. Recently promoted to run Stemilt Ag Services, the company’s orchard management division, he currently oversees orchard accounting, HR, project management and day-to-day operations as they all relate to growing a large percentage of Stemilt apples, pears, cherries and stone fruit. No matter what the task, he demonstrates great care and focus on producing high-flavor fruit to accomplish Stemilt’s mission of delighting consumers. He is concerned about the environment and is guiding Stemilt’s Responsible Choice program on new environmental initiatives. He is a mentor to his team and is focused on culture and cultivating the next generation in the field.

During college and for a year after graduation, Graham worked in the California and Washington tree fruit industry. During that time he had met, and eventually convinced one of his favorite winemakers, Le Cuvier of Paso Robles, CA, to hire him. During his position at Le Cuvier, he not only learned the wine industry but also became well educated in running a business, sales, and the importance of culture and organizational health. In 2013, he took an opportunity to return to Washington to work as an orchard manager with Stemilt’s farming team. During that time, he was promoted twice and also received the Stemilt Grower award in 2015. In the fall of 2018, he was named general manager of Stemilt Ag Services. He contributes back to the industry by serving as a panelist at various industry meetings including the Grower Roundtable during the Organic Grower Summit in 2018 and the Washington State Tree Fruit annual convention in 2017. And, he led a field tour demonstration for the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual conference in 2017.

Hobbies: Cooking, Reading, Hiking, Travel, Woodworking, Archery

Personal/Community: Married

Motto in life: “Work hard and be nice.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I have been obsessed by food for as long as I can remember. That food obsession eventually turned into an interest in growing things.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Focus on what I can control, and maybe not be so hard on myself about the things I cannot.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Our industry needs continued improvements in human augmentation for improved safety and ergonomics.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Don’t be afraid to call lots of people to ask for help, advice, or ideas on solving problems.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
It is hard to think anything other than labor and immigration reform could hold this position.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
In my role I get to see all the time the hard work and pride taken in growing the best eating fruit for the consumer. It is inspiring to see.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I would be very happy to be doing the same thing, but would like to devote more time to volunteering, and maybe just a little bit of fishing.

Amber Gray, 33

Digital Marketing Manager
Produce for Kids
Orlando, FL

As the digital marketing manager at Produce for Kids, Gray oversees all digital marketing efforts for the company, including social media, website, content development, recipe photography and email marketing. Since beginning with Produce for Kids in 2010, she has organically grown the Produce for Kids social media following from inception to a community of more 300,000 passionate parents and families.

After seeing high demand within the industry for more digital opportunities, Gray conceptualized the Power Your Lunchbox campaign in 2014. Now in its seventh year, the digital campaign has donated more than 1.4 million meals to families in need through Feeding America and has garnered 1.3 billion impressions to date. In 2019, the campaign received the Best International Initiative for Marketing Fresh Produce to Children award from The London Produce Show and Conference.

Gray volunteers her time on the Arnold Palmer Hospital Committee of the Southeast Produce Council, as social chair for the Agricultural Communicators of Florida, on the hospitality team at her church and has spent five years on the board of directors for the American Marketing Association of Orlando.

Hobbies: Cooking, Reading, Traveling, Food Photography

Personal/Community: Married, one daughter

Motto in life: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
You don’t have to know it all. I always felt like I needed to have all the answers and I was nervous that someone would ask a question I didn’t have the answer to. We all have areas where we know everything and some where we rely on those around us to fill in the gaps. My team at Produce for Kids leans on me for all things digital, and when a question comes up on the retail side, I know I can lean on members of our team with retail backgrounds.

Q: What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of in your career?
Launching the Produce for Kids Power Your Lunchbox campaign. When I came onboard with Produce for Kids in 2010, our in-store programs were well established, although we were constantly tweaking and improving. With Power Your Lunchbox, we had an idea for a digital promotion and came up with the program rather quickly. When we put it out there, we weren’t sure how it would be received, but the response during the past seven years has been amazing.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would love to see the industry fully embrace all aspects of the digital age. As the produce industry, we’re providing the healthiest, most nutritious food on the planet and we have a story to tell. We should use social media to show consumers our brand, explain why they should reach for an apple over French fries at the drive-thru and support the industry as a whole. With virtual and augmented reality technology, we can take consumers to the field, so they can see where their food comes from. Through video, consumers can discover new recipes or ways of prepping produce. Technology in stores at point of purchase can inspire a consumer to pick up a new fruit or veggie by showing them how to use it.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
About a year into my career with Produce for Kids, I was attending a networking event in Orlando. When I told someone what I did, they responded with “How amazing! You must love your job. I know I would if that was my job. I do marketing for a group of lawyers and it can be pretty boring.” It made me realize that no matter how bad the day seems or how much I have on my to-do list, I have a job that I can feel good about and that I have such a passion for.

Jeff Helseth, 31

Director of Sales & Field Operations
Minneapolis, MN

Helseth is a passionate, authentic, diligent industry leader. In less than seven years at Twist-Ease, he has continuously worked to quickly understand produce, retail, supply, and manufacturing industries, and now does the work of two positions. He began working with Twist-Ease during summer breaks from college, between 2009 and 2012. This time was spent traveling and setting up new customers. In 2014, he began managing shipping and receiving at the Twist-Ease warehouse full time. Later that year he was offered a salaried position in managing the company’s field operations and coordinating installs. During the past five years, his duties have expanded to include marketing work. He currently holds two titles with the company, director of sales and director of field operations.

In his position, Helseth manages new store setups and is the point of contact for store chain, banner, and representatives to discuss schedule, brackets, and logistics of Twist-Ease dispensers. He communicates the required raw materials to be purchased, product(s) to be assembled, and timing of shipments to the Twist-Ease team. He has created a strategic network of partnerships with bag companies, distributors, trade organizations, associations, and wholesalers. He hires, trains, and manages Twist-Ease installers (both employees and contractors) and is responsible for defining the policies and guidelines for all install members. He maintains and develops active customer databases with up-to-date information. He also works to define market strategies to support the company’s overall goals and objectives. He developed a marketing plan for Twist-Ease and oversees its day-to-day implementation including submitting and maintaining annual marketing budget proposals to accomplish the marketing plan and provide fiscal results to show return on investment. He maintains and updates the Twist-Ease website, collateral materials, and social media campaigns.

Hobbies: Downhill Ski Racing, Biking, Water Skiing, Slow-pitch Softball, Fantasy Football

Personal/Community: Certified Hennepin County Master Recycler / Composter Volunteer

Motto in life: “Choose to be optimistic. It feels better.” Dalai Lama

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My dad, Jim, was a produce manager in the Twin Cities throughout college. During his tenure, he patented the Twist-Ease system. Twist-Ease allowed twist ties to be easily dispensed in the produce department and made them easy to refill. The business was started in 1989, when I was six months old, so I have been involved in the industry since I can remember. I started with Twist-Ease during my summer breaks from college. During those months, I traveled and installed the Twist-Ease system into 250 stores across the country. During these trips, I thought there was a lot I could bring to the table in helping Twist-Ease. Installing our product into the produce department also allowed me to connect with produce employees and often would help customers find and evaluate produce.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
The hot button issue I see is a shifting focus to online shopping spurred by Amazon. Evaluating how these changes have impacted the fresh produce industry and Twist-Ease has been interesting. When I shop, I like to touch and evaluate the produce before I buy it. It will be important finding a way to make online shopping more like the brick and mortar experience.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I would like to develop and grow, leading Twist-Ease into a second generation of success. Taking the skills learned along the way to develop and mentor future entrepreneurs in the produce world.

Tony Hinderer, 36

Retail Vertical Manager – Managed Procurement Services
Robinson Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN

Hinderer started with Robinson Fresh right out of college in 2007 as a business analyst. After significantly increasing service levels, helping to develop the replenishment software and generating additional case revenue, he was promoted into account management. His responsibilities grew to cover six strategic customer accounts, and he helped create several new service verticals including national direct store delivery, retailer asset backhaul, and end-to-end supply chain solutions through CH Robinson technology. Today, he is the retail vertical manager for Robinson Fresh Managed Procurement Services where he designs new supply chain solutions to bring produce to retail. His goals are to increase efficiencies, decrease costs, and grow new channels to drive growth and profitability for not just Robinson Fresh but the produce industry overall.

Hobbies: Traveling, Hiking, Bouldering, Trail Running, Boating, Skiing

Personal/Community: Married; Alzheimer’s Association; Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Motto in life: “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” James Baldwin

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am proud of a recent solution I quickly developed to respond to the impacts of COVID-19. Within two days, I developed a 600 direct-to-store service to redistribute overflowing produce. This supports our retail and foodservice partners during this unprecedented time to bring fresh produce to consumers.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
I would advise anyone new to the produce industry to learn not just about the product, but the broader industry. There are so many opportunities to work in this industry. Exploring these early on in your career helps you better understand the bigger picture.

Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of a career in the produce industry today?
The moment you move your product, it’s dying. At the same time, demand for freshness and cost competitiveness are higher than ever before. Supply chain logistics and timing are critical and few other industries face this same challenge. This makes my role critical in the produce industry as I work to develop end-to-end integrated produce and capacity supply.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
A big change in the industry has been the rise of new channels. Historically, people would often get their produce at their local supermarket. Today, consumers buy produce through a variety of channels, such as convenience stores, small box retail, farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture shares, meal kits, and e-commerce. This change will continue to accelerate while consumers expect the same levels of service, quality, availability and choice. Working on this complexity and change is exciting and will require innovative solutions.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I would love to still be working in this exciting industry doing the innovative things that I’m doing today.

Christopher Holden, 35

Director of Sales- Northeast
San Antonio, TX

Holden began his career in August of 2006 at the Great A&P corporate headquarters as a clerk and was quickly promoted to buyer in the grocery department. At age 23, he was promoted to category manager in grocery in the non-perishable division and proceeded to move through several grocery departments as category manager. He was given the opportunity to move to the produce department as a category manager in 2011. After a couple of years in produce, he was offered a regional sales manager position at Fresh Express managing the Metro New York market. He spent three-and-a-half years there, growing the Fresh Express share of the salad category at key accounts. Holden was approached in 2015 by NatureSweet and asked to join its sales team as a division manager covering the Northeast region and working from Montvale, NJ. In his three plus years with the company, he has expanded distribution extensively across the region. With continued support from current and new customers along the East Coast, he has been able to foster new partnerships throughout the region.

Hobbies: Golf, Adventures with his kids, Projects around the house, Cheering all Philadelphia sports

Personal/Community: Married, 3 children

Motto in life: “Work hard and good things will come.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I was getting burnt out by the long hours required of a category manager, but the move to perishables introduced me to the community that exists only in produce. Each day presented new challenges that require you to think on your feet, make a decision and learn from the consequences. Our team at the time made the everyday grind fun, which was something that was missing at that point in my career. I was hooked on produce.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Reduction in food and packaging waste. In the U.S. the amount of good food we waste for myriad of reasons is completely unacceptable. It is by no means one person’s fault, but it is all our responsibility.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Work collaboratively across brands/categories to present meal solutions with produce as the lead. Most brands are trying to get into the perimeter, so leverage the high traffic produce aisle to create easy meal solutions for consumers.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Recyclable plastic single use packaging. We have become too reliant on plastic and it has only started to catch up to us. I believe, as an industry at large, we will need to figure out a better way to protect and maintain freshness on both perishable and shelf stable products without filling our garbage dumps with non-biodegradable material.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the produce industry by the public at large?
Food Safety, although there is always room for improvement. I think the news media can over embellish an issue during a slow news cycle to create the appearance of a larger problem.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Selfishly, I would like them to have a better understanding of the costs and labors of getting fresh produce on their shelves, from the purchasing of specific seeds, the grafting processes, technologies in greenhouses, labor needed to pick fruit, freight to get it there. Like any industry, there are many unsung heroes that go unrecognized throughout the process. For many this is truly a labor of love.

Nicole Elizabeth Hulstein, 38

Category Manager
Food Lion
Salisbury, NC

Hulstein began working at Food Lion straight out of college in 2004. She joined the produce category team as a category buying assistant. Hard work and tenacity earned her a promotion into a buying role roughly 18 months later. As a buyer for Food Lion, she was responsible for the day-to-day management of inventory, forecasting, cost negotiations and moving product from source into distribution centers. During her time as a buyer, she has bought most all of the categories in the produce department at one time or another. As she continued to grow in her career, she took on category analytic responsibilities as an analyst for the Snack Category. While the experience was good, she realized her passion was produce and rejoined the produce team as an assistant category manager, a role in which she was fortunate to apprentice with Teri Miller.

Having developed the necessary skills to grow her talent, in 2016 she branched out to manage the fruit category for The Fresh Market. While she loved produce and the supply chain, she became was eager for another challenge. In 2017, an in-store challenge presented itself in the form of her returning to Food Lion to lead a critical business initiative project. The initiative encompassed many aspects of her expertise including product quality, freshness, item specification and supply chain impacts. The role afforded her the opportunity to grow as a leader and position herself to take on her current role in 2018 as fruit category manager for Food Lion. She was a 2014 graduate of the Southeastern Produce Council’s (SEPC) STEP-UPP program and was one of the founding members of SEPC’s Southern Roots Committee.

Hobbies: Spending time with family, Reading, Dancing, Cooking

Personal/Community: Married, 2 children, Cove Kids ministry at local church, previously served on Board of Directors for Child Care Center in Salisbury

Motto in life: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” —Maya Angelou

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I didn’t find the produce industry – it found me. What attracted me to the industry is the speed and endurance required to thrive in this industry.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
This is an industry that flourishes because of the people in it.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Varieties, grades and specifications — there was so much to learn!

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Leading others and teaching them the intricacies of this industry is an incredible honor and brings me great joy.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
The first time I made something happen that should have never been able to happen. A problem solver by nature, having that first huge win for my company because of my relationship with others in the industry, being willing to think outside of the box and use my critical thinking skills to ultimately deliver for my customers was a remarkably high moment.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Sustainability. It’s a must-have to ensure we are able to continue our businesses for the next decade and the decades after that.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
There is so much hard work that goes into getting produce onto the shelf that they are purchasing from.

Anny Jones, 38

Senior Operations Manager
Sunrise Logistics Inc.
Ephrata, PA

Since joining the Four Seasons Family of Companies in 2008, Jones has provided effective leadership and management in supply chain solutions to 3PL customers of Sunrise Logistics. Customers rely on her expertise in developing effective solutions to overcome complex supply chain challenges and she is a trusted leader to multiple account management teams. She also served as a subject matter expert (SME) to plan and implement a complex enterprise resource planning (ERP) technology solution.

Jones began her career at Four Seasons during her final year of college with a part-time job as an administrative assistant in the transportation department. In that role, she was introduced to third party logistics services the company was building. When she finished college, Sunrise Logistics (a Four Seasons subsidiary) was formed and she was offered a position as a logistics account representative in 2006. In 2007, she left Sunrise to pursue an opportunity with Bozzuto’s Inc. to support the set up of 3PL services from its Allentown, PA, facility. A few years later, she returned to Sunrise Logistics as a logistics account representative. In 2017, she was promoted to logistics account manager at Sunrise. In 2018, she was promoted to logistics operations manager. In 2019, she took on her current role as senior operations manager. She now manages four teams, each consisting of an account manager, logistics specialist and several logistics coordinators. She successfully was graduated from the Leadership Lancaster program, which has a mission to develop outstanding community leadership to support the needs of Lancaster County. Additionally, Jones has coordinated several events as a volunteer at Circles USA – an organization with the mission to end poverty by creating thriving families and thriving communities.

Hobbies: Golf, Exercise, Shopping, Spending time with family

Personal/Community: Married, five kids

Motto in life: “Live the life you love!”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I always thought I wanted to be a CPA. I started college working towards a business degree with a focus on accounting. After taking my first marketing class, I changed my concentration to marketing. Learning about consumers’ buying habits and why consumers make the choices they do sparked an interest for me. During my final year of college, I started a part-time job at Four Seasons Produce. The idea of working for a produce company was interesting.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
I had no understanding of the produce industry when I started. It was challenging to learn all the different commodities and brands. In addition to learning a new industry, I had to learn the logistics part of the industry. Logistics in the produce industry is one of the most demanding due to the short shelf life on the product. There is very little to no margin of delay.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
More automation. I’ve seen several ways information has been automated through the years. In the logistics world, we’re constantly relying on our customers to send us information to enter in our system. One example is a truck manifest. Automation of the information listed on the bill of lading such as quantities and pallet ID tags once it ships from the loading point to our system would be amazing to see.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
The first time I walked through the produce aisle at the grocery store and realized the product I was looking at came from our warehouse. There’s a huge sense of pride when you can look at the product and understand the amount of time and effort it took to get on the store shelf to look so pretty.

Bianca Kaprielian, 36

CEO and Co-Owner
Fruit World Company, Inc.
Reedley, CA

Kaprielian’s family has been farming in California’s San Joaquin Valley for four generations. After a first career in documentary filmmaking, she was drawn back to agriculture and attended the UC Santa Cruz apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture and Sustainable Food Systems. Upon graduation, she worked as a project manager for the non-profit group Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), working with growers and stakeholders to map California’s ag lands. Through efforts with SAGE, she discovered she wanted to continue working closely with growers and set her sights on becoming a produce buyer. She earned her produce buying chops at Veritable Vegetable, said to be the oldest organic wholesaler in the country, where she handled the procurement of citrus and dry veg. Two years later, she was presented with an opportunity to join the produce procurement team at Whole Foods’ Northern California Distribution Center. In her tenure at Whole Foods, she gained deep insight into the produce retail world. In 2017, she left to start Fruit World Company with CJ Buxman. The company’s goal is to ensure family farms (including her family farms) and farmers across the state have viable outlets for the produce grown – enabling farms to continue into future generations. In addition to the fruit grown by its own families and farms, Fruit World now represents product from eight other growers and sells to major retailers in the U.S. Sales have doubled year-over-year since 2017, with the company adding additional staff each year as well.

Hobbies: Travel, Eating her way through new cities, Archery, Learning new skills (currently woodworking)

Personal/Community: Married, Supports HealthRight360 (a San Francisco based health care and substance rehabilitation non-profit serving California communities), Smith College alumnae group

Motto in life: “Age is a privilege that not everyone gets, so be grateful for each year and live life to the fullest.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I grew up in the industry. Some of my earliest memories are riding around the ranches in the pickup truck with my dad. When I was a child we grew stone fruit and table grapes, then when I was in high school we transitioned to citrus. My summers were spent working at the family packing house, Kaprielian Brothers Packing (now Eastside Packing). I grew up being encouraged not to farm because it is such hard work, but as the saying goes, “you can take the girl out of the farm, but can’t take the farm out of the girl.”

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Starting Fruit World Co. is the accomplishment I am most proud of in my career to date. CJ and I started the company from scratch and have put so much of ourselves into creating a sales company that benefits not just us, but equally our families, community of growers, and customers.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would love to see more women in leadership roles in the produce industry. The industry needs to continue promoting and valuing diversity in executive positions. We’ve made some huge strides since I was a kid and I’m grateful for all the women and men who have paved the way for young female CEOs like me.

Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of a career in the produce industry today?
A major challenge currently in our industry is retaining and recruiting young farmers. Farming requires so much more than a nine-to-five commitment and there are not a lot of mentorship opportunities, not to mention the high costs of starting up if you don’t have land available to you. For the industry to thrive we need to be making farming a viable and exciting option for young people. This is a big part of why we created Fruit World Co.

Stefanie Katzman, 37

Executive Vice President
S. Katzman Produce
Bronx, NY

Katzman started her career in produce the day she was born. As a fourth generation executive of a family run business, she exudes confidence and demonstrates tremendous courage and caring for her employees and her business. Her positive can-do-all attitude motivates her team to continue to push the boundaries of terminal produce distribution and increase market share continually. She officially began her produce career during high school in 2001, working summers for the family business at the Hunts Point Produce Market. Upon graduation from Ramapo College with a B.A. in economics, she began full-time and has worked her way up through the ranks learning every position at the company. She has experienced it all, from pulling a jack in the warehouse, unloading trucks, sales, buying, accounting, operations management, and executive management. As executive vice president of S. Katzman Produce Inc., Katzman Berry Corp. and Sharkey’s Trucking Inc., she currently works alongside her father, Stephen Katzman, continuing to lead the amazing team of about 375 employees. She also heads up S. Katzman’s retail brand Bloomfresh, currently offering 14 items direct to retail.

In 2013, Katzman became co-owner of MamaMia Produce, a grower distributor of vegetables from the Dominican Republic. MamaMia owns its own farmland in the DR and focuses mainly on Persian cucumbers, specialty tomatoes, and hot peppers. In 2018, she and another partner, launched a new company called Bad Apple that does home deliveries of oversupply and out-of-grade fruits and vegetables. Bad Apple focuses on sustainability and community support and outreach, while delivering fresh fruits and vegetables right to the consumer’s front door. She serves on the United Fresh Wholesaler Distributor Board, as well as the Easterseals of NY Board. She actively speaks at networking events on topics relevant to the industry and community such as labor relations and business growth. The NY Food and Beverage Summit calls on her to speak on fresh market trends, sustainability and millennials in the work force. She was honored by the DREAM School of NYC as “Woman Leader in Business” for her extensive work with the school and its programs.

Hobbies: Watching Baseball, Concerts, Hanging out with friends, Playing with niece and nephews

Personal/Community: Single, DREAM charity

Motto in life: “Work hard, play hard!”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Growing up I think I always knew I wanted to come into the business, but after the first summer I worked in the market after high school I was hooked. The excitement, the people, the fact that we got to sell products that are good for you, the vendors and customers and relationships that felt like family. Really everything about it I fell in love with.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of the team we have built here. Without them we would never have been able to achieve what we have accomplished so far and what we have planned for our future. Surrounding yourself with the right people is the key to success!

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Focus on the children. Teaching children to eat right when they are younger creates good eating habits and future customers.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
I really loved the business from the day I started, but when I first started in the sales department downstairs on the walk I was 10,000 percent hooked. The action, negotiations, the relationships — it was like the stock market but better because we had the added pressure of perishability.

Rob Kinsella, 37

Director – Retail
CH Robinson/Robinson Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN

Kinsella is considered a key leader within Robinson Fresh/C.H. Robinson, heading the company’s retail vertical offerings among other steering committees within the C.H. Robinson enterprise. Growing up in the operations of the fresh business, he has been instrumental to the growth of the organization, having an extended history of success through commercial-facing efforts. He’s also involved in building mutually beneficial supply chain services that support the ongoing initiatives of the direct and indirect retail customers. Following graduation from Minnesota State University-Mankato, Kinsella entered the produce industry with C.H. Robinson. From his first day, he has had a focus and gravitation to the grocery retail supply chain in both fresh produce and floral. For the past 15 years, he has held various roles across both companies that have allowed him to collaborate, innovate and experiment with temperature controlled supply chain practices and methodologies.

Currently, he leads a team of account managers who engage many of the world’s largest retailers. He has responsibilities of creating multi-year strategies, designing internal structure and talent development of his team, and developing a world class customer experience for his clients. After years of working with the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) Kinsella recently joined its Transportation and Infrastructure Committee where he meets monthly with leaders from 50 plus retail organizations. They work collaboratively to create positive change within the retail supply chain. Establishing lasting relationships with key stakeholders in the grower/shipper, retail, wholesale, foodservice and carrier communities has allowed him to consistently deliver high-quality results while always driving innovation and efficiency into the fresh industry.

Hobbies: Hiking, Golf, Mountain biking, Home projects, Cooking/Grilling, Local live music

Personal: Married, three kids

Motto in life: “He or she who rides the bull can never dismount.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
This industry is all about relationships. When two of my closest friends began working at C.H. Robinson as interns while we attended MSU together, they spoke of the speed, the energy and the culture surrounding the industry and the company. I was hooked my very first day and have not looked back.

Q: What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of in your career?
Besides earning the chance to lead a team of highly successful professionals every day, I am most proud of being on the team that won Third Party Logistics Provider of the Year, three times running, from one of the retailers that continues to drive this industry.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would like to see those involved in creating regulations find the appropriate balance between safety and productivity. I would love to find a way for the produce industry across the entire supply chain to more cost-effectively provide families the opportunity to consume more fruits and vegetables. I would love to see retailers continue to push the boundaries of the ‘in-store’ experience, with a produce-first mindset. Also, I want the industry to find a way to grow locally (year round) as a way to not only reduce food miles but also generate economic growth in local communities.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the produce industry by the public at large?
The consumer has been educated that the quality of the products must be higher if it is sourced locally. While supporting a local economy is important, high-quality products can come from anywhere around the world with a great supply chain. The key is to understand the best growing and sourcing region for that product tied to seasonality, as that will ultimately dictate the quality of the product.

Angela Lavorato Salinas, 38

Manager of Sales Analysis and Credit
D’Arrigo Bros. Co., of California
Salinas, CA

Throughout her 13 years with D’Arrigo Bros Co. of California, Lavorato Salinas has assisted in the increase of revenue and efficiencies while working between and within multiple departments. As manager of sales analysis, she analyzes all aspects of revenue. Collaboratively with the vice presidents of sales, post-harvest, operations and finance, operational structures and new revenue streams have been constructed and workflow has been organized. She began her career with D’Arrigo Bros. as a sales analyst, which was a new position. She quickly built a strong relationship with the sales management team and found herself involved in every contract renewal and overall weekly profitability outcomes.

Her position grew to a senior financial analyst where she found herself in customer meetings and management discussion. She became an advisor on all streams of revenue. Lavorato Salinas was then promoted to manager of sales analysis and credit. She works with a team of analysts to increase revenue and efficiencies as well as cash flow. The accounts receivable team reports to her as well. As a numbers whiz, she is considered a key part of the sales, finance and executive team and her role is crucial in making business and partnership decisions to drive forward the company. She provides input and leadership into various departmental decisions from food safety to quality — to help ensure D’Arrigo is not only at the frontline of the important decisions, but also that financial support is given to ensure these areas are supported for success.

Hobbies: Coaching sports, Exercising, Reading, Trying new cuisines, Traveling, Spending time with children, friends, family

Personal/Community: Two boys, School volunteer, St. Joseph’s Catholic church, Board of Directors for Ariel Theatrical, Board of Directors for Toro Pony Baseball, chaired a Relay for Life team for her company.

Motto in life: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
It was not my original plan. Entering college, I was unsure of my own passion. I planned to follow in my father’s footsteps, obtain a degree in Business, with an emphasis in Accounting and work for his CPA firm. But I realized early on in my studies that was not the path for me. I took a course in economics and everything changed. The subject just clicked. I was able to use my mathematical skills and couple them with data interpretation. I changed my major to Economics and set my sights on the produce industry. I had always planned on moving home after college and being that the largest industry in the Salinas Valley is produce, it was an easy choice.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
In my tenure the accomplishment I am most proud of is the development and management of a complete and concise contract system. This system has provided the means to analyze our open and contracted sales — providing visibility into compliance and performance of contracts and open sales at both a macro and micro level.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Labor and mechanization. With increases to the minimum wage rates, decreases to overtime hours and a smaller labor force, the need to mechanize our labor is essential. The steep increase in payroll taxes and benefits have put a lot of cost pressure on the supplier. As well, increased labor demand for other crops not traditionally grown in the Salinas Valley, such as cannabis, berries and wine grapes, has spread the labor force very thin. Mechanization will not only help to combat the pressure of increased payroll tax and benefit expense but will also decrease crew sizes to help allocate labor across the thousands of acres planted in this valley.

Kraig Loomis, 39

Sales and Marketing Manager
GreenFruit Avocados
Newport Beach, CA

Loomis has more than 20 years of produce experience, 15 of which were spent in retail as a produce clerk, produce manager, produce inspector, produce specialist, and produce buyer with companies including Kroger and Fresh & Easy. He transitioned to the grower/shipper side of business as the sales manager for asparagus, wet veg, and varietal berries at Progressive Produce. In July 2018, he accepted a new role at GreenFruit Avocados where he is responsible for building on the existing sales and marketing programs of GreenFruit and creating a culture of quality and service experience for every customer. This includes mentoring the sales and marketing team to achieve company goals, as well as personal goals. He has helped create a positive culture for the company. He is credited with securing new business for the company and helped grow sales revenue of about $12 million in 2019. He is actively involved with the Fresh Produce & Floral Council Apprentice Program where he is currently the Chairman for the Task Force and also a mentor for the program.

Hobbies: Soccer, Baseball, Hiking, Backpacking, Coach daughters’ soccer teams

Family/Personal/Community: Married, three kids

Motto in life: Always have goals, prepare, plan and give it your all to succeed.

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I started working in produce as a grocery combo clerk and I received a chance to work the third man produce shift at my store. I instantly loved working in produce, from merchandising the items and building displays to learning about the items in the department and the interesting customer interactions. After that shift, I set my goal to become a produce buyer.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I knew more about the pathway programs that are available to someone that is just starting their career. There are so many resources and amazing mentors that can help guide you.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I’m proud to be part of the FPFC Apprentice Taskforce and being a mentor for the past six years. Going into year seven, I have taken on the new position as the Apprentice Taskforce Chairman. Overall, I love being part of this program to give back to the industry that has given so much to my family and me.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Be willing to learn and work hard everyday to make an impact in the industry. Also to treat people how you want to be treated.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
It happened when I was promoted to produce manager at Ralph’s Grocery Company. I learned about the different career pathways in the produce industry and the numerous opportunities available.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Labor is a major issue we are currently facing and one we will continue to face in the future. The key will be immigration reform that needs to happen. Without labor to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables, the consumer will not be able to buy their produce and eat healthy.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
The amount of time and effort it takes for consumers to receive their produce. There are a lot of people that plant, harvest and transport their produce from farm to table and I think consumer education about the process is very important.

Daniel Adam Malechuk, 39

Chief Executive Officer
Orlando, FL

A food industry veteran, Malechuk has spent his career managing and growing several of the world’s leading food, grocery, and produce companies. As a leader in the industry, he has worked in all aspects of the businesses he has led including sales, operations, supply chain, and marketing for companies such as ALDI, Keysource Foods, Shamrock Foods, and Kalera. Malechuk began working at Kalera in 2019 as chief executive. In this position, he has helped the company expand from its Orlando roots to a burgeoning national and international business through building the executive team, bringing it into the national media spotlight and landing national high profile customers. He also serves as a key figurehead in vertical/urban farming at conferences across the world.

Prior to his position at Kalera, Malechuk was senior vice president of supply chain for Mastronardi Produce and also led the retail division at Shamrock Foods where he drove explosive revenue and profitability growth and expansion across the Southwest. He served as vice president at Keysource Foods, where he led company strategy and sales operations and negotiated contracts with some of the world’s largest food companies, including ConAgra, Carnival Corporation, PF Chang’s, ALDI, and Sysco. He began his career as a district manager at ALDI, where he helped the company expand into new markets and was subsequently promoted to director of corporate purchasing at ALDI’s U.S. headquarters. There he headed several of the company’s perishable programs and focused on global sourcing, purchasing, marketing, and product development. In addition, he developed and spearheaded the company’s corporate seafood sustainability policy and developed a product that won the national Private Label Manufacturers Association’s Salute to Excellence award. He holds a BA in business management and marketing from North Carolina State University where he was a Park Scholar, and an Executive MBA from the University of Arizona.

Hobbies: Flying (he’s a pilot), Scuba Diving, Travel, Fishing, Running, Hunting

Personal/Community: Married, four children, Member of the Parish Council, lector and youth ministry leader, Active in the Knights of Columbus, Board for the Christian Family Living Center

Motto in life: “Make the most of what you’ve got, don’t waste time trying to be something you’re not.” Dave Matthews

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Produce has been an essential part of my nearly two-decade career in the food industry. Starting as a district manager for ALDI, produce was a “trip driver” for our retail customers. My time at Shamrock Foods introduced a blend of retail customers along with restaurant owners and operators and I enjoyed working with all customers to witness the value of produce to their operations. I took the leadership role as chief executive with Kalera with the desire of being able to bring the freshest, most nutritious produce to people hyper-locally.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I would have never imagined how complex and ever-changing the produce industry is. Technology is changing the way we grow, distribute, and market produce, as well as the way unexpected challenges, such as natural disasters, or even COVID-19, impacts the industry.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
Realizing the opportunity at Kalera has the ability to change the way people have access to produce, and that it can truly change people’s lives by getting them produce, right where they are, right when they want it. I recently passed out hundreds of cases of produce to people in Orlando who were laid off their jobs due to COVID-19, and seeing people crying with tears of joy and gratitude was truly the “aha” moment of understanding what we are doing really matters.

Nathalie Marin-Gest, 37

Head of Fresh Goods
Fair Trade USA
Oakland, CA

Marin-Gest is considered a trailblazer and has worked tirelessly to elevate and grow the Fair Trade movement in produce through building strong partnerships with brands and retailers. Her work has impacted many throughout the world during years of ongoing travel to farms, participation in focus groups, workforce trainings, meetings and speaking engagements.
She began her role at Fair Trade USA as an intern in the coffee department, during the summer of 2012 while working on her grad degrees. In 2013, she was hired full-time as the first supply chain manager for the produce and floral team. In 2015, she became senior supply chain manager, produce and floral. She led strategy for the supply chain team where she developed and launched Fair Trade Certification in U.S. production – a first in the Fair Trade history.

In 2017, Marin-Gest was promoted to director, produce and floral, where she led Business Development and Supply Chain teams through strategy refresh. The team generated $8 million in Fair Trade premiums for growers and workers. In 2018, she became senior director, produce and floral and led the team through restructuring, developing sales and business operations and program expansion to achieve $9 million in Fair Trade premiums. In 2019, she took on her current role where she oversees the strategic expansion of the Fair Trade Certified produce, floral and seafood categories, while also supporting the award-winning Fresh Goods business development, grower support teams, and the Supply Chain team. Marin-Gest has helped expand the produce and floral category to represent more than 1.5 billion pounds of product sold on Fair Trade terms (during the past decade), representing more than $30 million in impact from Fair Trade premiums going back to growers and workers.

Hobbies: Traveling, Hiking, Philosophy, Physics

Personal/Community: Married

Motto in life: “Seek to understand, whether you agree or disagree.”

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
Within my work in the produce industry with Fair Trade USA, I am proud of having led the development and launch of the domestic Fair Trade Certification program. Prior to September 2016, Fair Trade Certifications could only be granted in countries outside of the U.S. In order to open the doors to Fair Trade Certifications in the “global north,” I conducted extensive research on domestic labor laws, what other organizations were already doing to support brands, farmers, workers in the U.S., and how Fair Trade could have impact here as well. I led the integration of the feedback from experts, government agencies and other varied stakeholders into the updated Agricultural Production Standard, allowing for a new Fair Trade Certification program to now be offered to all countries and geographies.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
The “aha” moment for me was when I realized how many people touch one tomato before I purchase it at the store. More than a dozen people, their families and their communities go into producing one tomato. At every step of its production, so much care and details are invested into that one tomato that at the end of the supply chain results in joy and nutrition to consumers. In understanding that, I could see how produce is an essential part of our physical health and our connection as humans, which goes back to the beginning of agriculture.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
The social and environmental sustainability of the produce industry is the most critical hot button issue. The environmental impact of production and packaging has become a hotter topic during the past decade or so, and only now is the topic of social responsibility really starting to take off.

Wyatt Meiggs, 36

Western Sky Produce LLC
Salinas, CA

Meiggs is known for his leadership and critical thinking skills beyond his years and experience. His first full time job in the industry began in 2008 with FoodSource, a CH Robinson company, as an account manager. He spend 12 years with FoodSource/Robinson working in many different roles from sales to supply management, including senior sourcing representative, account manager, and category manager.

In his last role as category manager, he was responsible for developing and managing two significant programs: 1) a distribution program for smaller set green grocers in the Northeast, and 2) management of key large import and distribution programs, including an import apple and pear program from South America to major retail chains across the country.

His progression through Robinson allowed him to parlay his talents into an entrepreneurial role, and in 2020 he opened Western Sky Produce with business partner Phillip Giles. The company works to create value for customers and growers by optimizing supply chains and discovering efficiencies. In his position as president of sales and grower relations of the new venture, Meiggs is responsible for overseeing the company’s supplier base and working closely with customers to create custom solutions to individual needs.

He was the first student to graduate with a concentration in ag business from Cal State University Monterey Bay, and utilized various internships in the produce industry while attending college.

Hobbies: Hiking, Fishing, Hunting, Biking, Golfing

Family/Personal/Community: Married, 2 children

Motto in life: “Stay passionate and work hard to achieve your goals.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My uncle was a fresh vegetable grower in Hollister, CA, and I remember at an early age driving around with him from ranch to ranch checking on the progression of the crops he grew. I can still remember being no more than 10-years-old and knowing that I was going to work in the produce industry. A lot has changed since then but here I am 25 years later working in the industry that I always wanted to be involved in.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
am proud of the many partnerships I have created and maintained throughout my career. I spend a lot of time thinking about how my actions and performance affect my partners.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I believe food waste is at the top of my list. I would like to see a better and more transparent supply chain that eliminates food waste in our industry.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
I am a firm believer that if you start healthy habits with children, they will grow up and continue those healthy habits throughout their lives. In my opinion, the opportunity lies in getting more produce into the mouths of children now. Programs like Brighter Bites and Salad Bars for Schools are excellent examples of engaging children now so they continue to eat more fresh produce starting at a young age.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Labor is the hot button for me. The amount of the labor force that is willing to go out and harvest crops such as berries and apples will continue to shrink.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I would like to be surrounded by colleagues who work hard to advance our industry.

Shannon Mikulskis, 32

Relationship and Project Lead, Produce Distribution
Chick-fil-A, Inc.
Atlanta, GA

Mikulskis has been serving in the produce and distribution industries for 15 years. She is known for her ability to look out for the best solutions for industry partners across the supply chain and focus on building cohesive and mutually beneficial partnerships. Her first six years at Chick-fil-A were spent in a restaurant in her hometown of Newnan, GA. After that, she began in a part-time position for the Chick-fil-A Inc. supply chain department, meeting with restaurant operators and discussing the benefits of a Managed Produce Program. She worked in sourcing and distribution, with most of her time spent in the distribution. She was eventually promoted to her current position of relationship and project lead in produce distribution. Her main function has been to build out Chick-fil-A’s Produce Program, setting the strategy and building relationships with its partners and distributors. Another impactful project within her scope is implementing end-to-end traceabilty. She has served on several produce industry committees including as the former chairman of the United Fresh Retail-Foodservice Board, and as a United Fresh Board of Directors Executive Committee Member.

Hobbies: Photography, Gardening, Keeping chickens

Personal/Community: Married, two children, Calvary Chapel Newnan Children’s Ministry Director, World Vision

Motto in life: “Trust your instincts, face reality, assume the good in people, and always care for each other and yourself.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I began as a temporary, part-time staff member since at the current time Supply Chain needed someone who could travel to all of Chick-fil-A’s Restaurant markets, meeting with our restaurant operators. My restaurant experience was crucial, along with a crash course in the produce industry.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Deciding where to plug in first! There is so much learning opportunity and people are so very willing to share and bring newcomers along, but it was a bit overwhelming at first. Additionally, learning how certain products’ growing seasons and regions vary was a lot of information to take in at one time.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
That’s an easy one – the adoption of traceability and an easier process for contingent/immigrant worker paperwork.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
I think we have to continue to make buying produce easy and affordable for consumers. The work United Fresh is doing to influence programs such as SNAP and WIC is amazing. I love what Kroger is doing to promote healthy food (produce) as a supplement or replace certain medications in certain situations, along with promoting clean ingredients and production / harvesting processes with its Simple Truth brand. Additionally, where restaurants can continue to pursue healthy options across their menus – including meals for kids – only promotes kids to ask for and make those choices when they are at school and at home.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
When I realized the “hustle” and the busyness of produce was actually really fun and exciting – not that I’m a fan of weather issues or shelf life challenges. I am always humbled by and grateful for the way the industry pulls together in these situations to serve everyone; direct competitors even work together. I also love the talent, knowledge, and history of the families in growing and distribution operations – especially those that are three, four, or even five generations in sometimes.

Ryan Miller, 38

M. Levin and Company, Inc.
Philadelphia, PA

Miller entered the produce industry from a background in finance and immediately excelled in the fast-paced and ever-changing produce industry. While he has only been in the business for a few years, he has made an impact on M. Levin and Company, Inc., as well as the industry at-large. He started in general sales and quickly advanced by utilizing previous sales skills, follow up, and attention to detail. He spearheaded the company’s Western Vegetables Program, growing the customer base and seeking new suppliers, eventually taking over the buying of the product. Since he restarted the Western Vegetable Program, its percent growth has been exponential with an estimated 30 percent year-over-year increase in vegetable sales. He also made connections with four new farms that the company now receives product from and has established a new retail partnership that will continue to expand. He is a 2019 Eastern Produce Council Leadership. He gives back by working closely with Philabundance and other area food banks to coordinate weekly donations.

Hobbies: Running, Tennis, Snowboarding, Landscaping

Personal/Community: Married, one daughter and another on the way

Motto in life: “Life’s a journey, not a destination.”

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Starting a new vegetable program was very demanding. This involved forging relationships with suppliers, building a customer base, and continuing to provide the customer experience and quality that our company is known for.

Q: What do you see the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Unfortunately we are living through it currently with a world pandemic. Learning how to control supply and continue to meet the demands of our customers, while also being empathetic to the challenges the world is facing today — and ultimately in the months and even years to come, is something I never thought I would be dealing with. The current pandemic has forever altered the future of the produce industry.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Most consumers aren’t educated on what it takes to get product from the farm to their table. They don’t consider the challenges in logistics, farming, workers, food safety, to name the least.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
We need to keep emphasizing the importance of healthy school lunches. Giving children access to fresh produce daily and educating them on the important benefits of a healthy diet. Not only will this instill health in them, but they will pass it along to their families down the line. This will also help reduce the strain on our healthcare system in the future.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
It’s a hard business to make a name for yourself in; the produce business is all about making and keeping relationships. I would tell someone new to the industry to network (via as much face-to-face as possible) and to make as many connections as you can along different sectors of the supply chain. Learn all that you can from everyone you can. Their experiences and knowledge will help forge your career within the industry.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
My goal is to become the sales manager for our whole sales team, overseeing each salesman and their products. I want to continue to ensure the customer experience stays synonymous with our company’s values, and seeing to it that we are continually growing.

Nicole Minnich-Zapata, 34

Marketing Director
Monterey, CA

Minnich-Zapata started learning the produce game as a child in the sales office at Misionero Vegetables, where her father was a partner at the time. As she aged, she enjoyed learning from her father while he co-found and built Food Source (later acquired by CH Robinson). During these years, she spent a significant amount of time accompanying him on visits to the fields, processing facilities, and events. Since embarking on her own, she is recognized as a team player and leader — willing to go the extra mile to accomplish the job. She began her official produce career as assistant to Joe Merenda (president) when the Harbinger Group, LLC was formed in 2010. She has since risen through the ranks and is known to be a creative force in the company. As she took on new responsibilities within the team, she earned the respect of the entire organization. In 2016, when Harbinger Group acquired Misionero, Minnich-Zapata moved into marketing. Since then she has risen to marketing director of Misionero where she manages overall marketing efforts and strategy as well as supporting product development and social accountability initiatives.

She has rebuilt all of the company’s marketing strategy, works on product development, and has reimaged the company’s business to the industry. Her “Smiles Behind Your Food” campaign has been the cornerstone of how the company presents itself to the industry. She developed this out of company’s core belief that its people are what make it a great company. This led to an obvious role for her to head up the company’s social accountability efforts as an organization incorporating EFI, rPlanet, Project Gigaton, and Zero Waste initiatives. Minnich-Zapata is also responsible for a complete rebranding of all of the company’s product lines, brands, and operating companies under the Harbinger Group umbrella. These include Misionero, Green Wave Farms, Vertical Foods, and Terra Fresh Organics. She is also very active in networking and participating in the industry, supporting marketing and women’s initiatives.

Hobbies: Spending quality time with family, Exercise, Hiking, Yoga

Personal/Community: Married, one daughter

Motto in life: “Life is a game, play it; Life is a challenge, Meet it; Life is an opportunity, Capture it.” – Unknown

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
This industry is like no other and can change rapidly from day-to-day. You have to plan meticulously as well as stay agile to excel.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
I am most proud of my team. With great leadership, we have been able to build teams that have led to Misionero’s continued growth, on the pillars of putting people first as well as innovation, and I could not be more proud.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Soak it all in, become knowledgeable in every aspect of your business. Don’t just stay in your lane.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Put people first in messaging. Now more than ever, people want to know the story behind their food and where it comes from. All aspects of our industry have great people stories to tell.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
Since I grew up in the industry there has always been a pull but it was made official when I started working for Harbinger Group. I love the wins and challenges that come with working with perishable products and the connection of it all.

Christine Moseley, 38

Founder and Chief Executive
Full Harvest
San Francisco, CA

Moseley, Full Harvest founder and chief executive, is on a mission to solve the world’s food waste problem. Full Harvest, the first business-to-business online marketplace connecting growers with brands that up-cycle “ugly” and surplus produce into innovative food and beverage products, was born out of her passion for the environment, sustainability, and affordable healthy food. Full Harvest creates value across the supply chain by significantly reducing wasted food and resources, lowering production costs for food and beverage companies and bringing farmers additional revenue streams.

Moseley has more than 15 years of experience in the logistics and food industries at both Fortune 100 companies (Maersk, P&G) as well as high-growth food start-ups. In her previous role, she assisted Organic Avenue, a NYC healthy food and juice start-up, double in size as head of strategic projects and business development. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and was recently recognized as Fortune’s #2 “Most Innovative Woman in Food & Drink” and Forbes’ #14 “Woman Crushing Tech.” Full Harvest was named one of Forbes’ “Most Innovative Agtech Startups.” For its efforts, the company was also recognized as a 2019 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer. Moseley spoke at the UN COP 25 meeting in January 2020 and this year’s World Economic Forum.

Hobbies: Cooking, Travel, Piano, Dance, Sustainability

Personal/Community: YPO, Canvas Church

Motto in life: “Go big or go home.”

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
First, I’d love to see farmers thrive by being able to sell more produce that is historically left in the field because it does not meet retail aesthetic standards. Next, I’d like the produce sector to be at the center of the climate conversation. The industry will be greatly impacted by climate disruptions going forward and we have a huge role to play in reducing carbon emissions by eliminating food loss. As demand for plant-based products continues to be a growth engine in the food sector, produce is going to have a powerful voice in creating a healthier and more sustainable food system.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
When visiting a romaine lettuce grower I saw how much on-farm food was being lost because it didn’t meet stringent retail aesthetic standards, but was otherwise high quality and edible food. It was at that moment that I decided to dedicate my life to helping farmers earn more money and fix the on-farm food loss challenge. My goal: eliminate food waste and create 100 percent full harvests for farmers.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Climate change is the single most important issue facing the sustainability of our industry. With greater climate variance, we’ll continue to see supply chain disruptions that have social and environmental impacts to our farming communities. Yet, I am optimistic because the produce industry also has an increasingly critical role to play addressing climate change. If we work as a sector to adopt technologies and logistics solutions, we can have an outsized impact on solving this problem.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Broadly, the industry has grown in real terms as demand for plant-based products has soared. This is such a great trend as it relates to human and planetary health. I also think that the COVID pandemic has shed light on very real vulnerabilities in our industry, and has exacerbated some of the food loss and labor issues confronting the sector. I firmly believe that the pandemic will be a turning point for our industry as we work together to adopt technologies and logistics solutions that address these issues.

Joshua Noonan, 35

Senior Manager, Supply Chain Services Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN

Noonan started with C.H. Robinson/Robinson Fresh immediately after college on the produce transportation side of the business where he won several awards and participated as a panel speaker at industry events. He was promoted with the focus on managing strategy for the company’s produce distributors, assisting them to transport inbound produce more effectively for foodservice clients. He then took on a new role, managing the company’s Preferred Distribution Network, a group of regional produce distributors servicing same-day delivery to retail, foodservice, and C-store customers. Under his management, the team has grown the company’s network more than 300 percent, expanded it internationally, and increased collaborative education by hosting and participating in produce distributor summits.

Through his 13-year career at C.H. Robinson/Robinson Fresh, Noonan has held numerous positions within the company of which he has consistently been tasked with developing and executing on strategies in conjunction with produce industry initiatives. His experience includes leadership within the Managed Procurement Services division, produce transportation, managing and developing the Produce Distribution Network, and recently the collaborative strategy with bringing Robinson Fresh Produce to its e-commerce platform.

Hobbies: Hosting backyard BBQs, Golfing, Playing basketball with his son, Minnesota Vikings

Personal/Community: Engaged, one son and another on the way, Diamond Lake Lutheran Church, The Bridging Center, Wounded Warriors Foundation, Richfield Youth, and Central College Athletics

Motto in life: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” – Mark Twain

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
As I walked the C.H. Robinson sales floor as part of my interview process, I was immediately attracted to the global impact of the fast-paced environment and the teamwork involved in each produce transaction.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers and grocers were struggling to meet the heightened consumer demand and keep fresh produce on their shelves. We helped them by utilizing our regional Produce Distribution Network, something the team and I developed over the past seven years, to bring in fresh produce and make twice daily deliveries directly to the stores and keep the shelves stocked.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
The industry focus on improving the use of the 30 percent or more of produce wasted and solve the global fight against hunger.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Improving produce traceability to origin of supply is vital in placing more quickly-issued advisories and recalls without consumer harm or large industry disruption.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The role of digitalization and analytics within the marketplace has become the new normal. When I started 13 years ago, I spent a good amount of my day waiting by the fax machine. Fast forward to today and orders flow electronically between trading partners, while capturing real-time data allowing customers to manage and shift their business quicker than ever before.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
My goal is to be the president of Robinson Fresh, guiding a team of strong leaders interacting with industry leaders to ensure healthy, safe, and affordable produce is available globally to consumers.

Maria D. Nunez, 34

President and Chief Executive
Linda Mar Imports Inc.
Medley, FL

Nunez is a self-starter who has developed a successful woman-owned produce company over the past 10 years. She started in the produce industry in 2008 as chief executive of a produce transport company with 19 trucks and established strong relationships with customers. About two years ago, her motivation to do something different took her to Honduras where she leased a packing house and land to begin growing and importing oriental vegetables. Though her first year was difficult, she showed extreme determination and grit in learning from the experience and planning for the future. She is currently operating in her third year branding her own produce and seeing success. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, she has maintained four employees as well as working with independent sales teams to continue inventory in the markets. She provided services for storage and handling and trucking to customers and colleagues and worked non-stop to continue moving trucks with safety precautions.

Hobbies: Yoga, Dance, Golf, Boating, Sports With Her Kids

Personal/Community: Engaged, two sons, Charity work in Honduras

Motto in life: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will lead you everywhere.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
Running a trucking company with 19 trucks all over the U.S. hauling produce. I was attracted to giving my customer full service trucks and produce.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I had a business consultant like I do now to help me organize my goals and keep me focused.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Growing and doing business internationally where I had to do accounting in foreign currencies.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
The trust and the support I have from my customers and the awesome team I have created.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Do your research; don’t invest or take too much risk because market prices change rapidly.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Production and farmers need to have money to invest in good quality product so that the distributors won’t reject and trash 30 percent.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
On trips to Honduras, I visited and met many growers. I know how hard they work and I want my company to be profitable enough to help reduce hunger and poverty.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
I would like to take them through the process of packaging and make them realize how it affects the environment. I’d also like to educate them more on all the nutrients and benefits of vegetables and fruit.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The freight cost by boat has increased and the regulations of the FDA and USDA have no pity when it comes to fumigation.

Q: Which social media platform for business do you use the most and why?
LinkedIn because it’s a great way to connect.

Nadia Pasco, 39

Chief Executive Officer
Santa Maria, CA

Pasco and Azzule play a crucial role in produce by assisting buyers in communicating expectations to suppliers and, in return, conveying supplier performance to buyers. She turns a series of complex tasks into easily reviewable results and seeks to make food safety transactions as transparent as possible throughout the supply chain. For the past 12 years, Azzule, under Pasco’s leadership, has facilitated accurate, open, and honest exchanges between nearly 10,000 buyers and sellers. She has served the chief executive of Azzule since the founding of the company in 2008. As chief executive she has overseen the expansion of the PrimusGFS audit to 21 countries, making it one of the most popular GFSI benchmarked certification programs in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, she spearheaded the development of the Azzule Supply Chain Program platform, a system for maintaining food safety documents (lab results, audits, insurance and sanitation records, etc.) that helps facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers. Currently, the Azzule platform hosts 18 major buyer sites for food retailers as diverse as Costco, Walmart, and H.E.B. and food service companies such as Sysco and C.H. Robinson.

Pasco began her career even before graduating with a B.S. in Information Systems Engineering from Tecnológico de Monterrey, when she accepted a government position working as the chief of data entry and verification with the Mexican State of Sinaloa. Two years later, PrimusLabs offered her a position in her hometown of Culiacan, Mexico, as an information systems project manager. In that role, she managed the projects portfolio for PrimusLabs’ internal and external clients, directing the software developers’ group, setting up goals and objectives, and constantly tracking the status of various projects. She was in constant communication with customers to identify requirements and monitor their needs. At the same time, she began working on an MBA. In 2008, PrimusLabs decided to split off its data services division to incorporate as Azzule Systems, and Pasco was named chief executive of the new company and asked to relocate to PrimusLabs’ headquarters in Santa Maria, CA. Pasco is an active member of Produce Marketing Association’s Science and Technology Committee, Produce Marketing Association’s Blockchain Task Force, Global Food Safety Initiative Annual Conference stakeholder, Central Coast CEO Roundtable, Softec: The Central Coast Technology Alliance, and the Project Management Institute certification program.

Hobbies: Reading, Exercising, Traveling

Personal/Community: Married, 2 children, St. Louis de Montfort church.

Motto in life: “If you work hard, you can achieve any objectives you set for yourself.”

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would like to be able to continue developing aid for small and mid-size distributors, retailers and restaurants in establishing supply chain reviews that allow oversight while remaining operationally effective.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
You mean, today? Yesterday? This week? Well… there have been a lot, but the events involving the coronavirus helped me to realize that retail distribution is a real priority, and also that produce is an essential need for people.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Benjamin Franklin once famous said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” That, unfortunately, seems to be the plight of the fresh produce industry. While fruits and vegetables have never been produced more safely, a single outbreak can tarnish the entire industry. Azzule sees its role as assisting the industry in an effort to regain and maintain the confidence of consumers in the safety of fresh produce.

Travis Phelps, 39

Key Account Manager
Robinson Fresh
Eden Prairie, MN

For the past 15 years, Phelps has been helping his customers and his company consistently grow. In 2004, he started his journey in the produce business with C.H Robinson in Spokane, WA, where he spent his early years surrounded by industry veterans that helped build the foundation he needed to be successful. He later transferred to Scottsdale, AZ, where he took on an expanded role within C.H Robinson and began to work as a regional commodity manager and account manager. During the eight years spent in Arizona, he worked with processors and retailers in the West and Rocky Mountain Region, growing businesses and forming life-long relationships. While in Arizona, he was two-time employee of the year for outstanding production and performance. Phelps also completed C.H. Robinson’s Key Account Sales Program. He then made the decision to relocate to Nashville to focus on bringing The Misfits program to life. The Misfits became the largest program of its type in the country and started the conversation around how to better market and sell cosmetically ugly fruit, combatting food waste throughout the supply chain.

In 2017, Phelps left Robinson Fresh to take the position as vice president of sales for Veggie Noodle Co. in Austin, TX. He was part of a dynamic and creative team focused on bringing Veggie Noodles and zoodles to the world. Being on the leading-edge of a bourgeoning trend, he helped the company experience explosive growth while bringing healthy eating options to families across the country. In 2018, he rejoined the team at Robinson Fresh, this time in Tampa, FL, where he began working as a key account manager and focusing on bringing new innovations to the marketplace. He has led several marketing and product development initiatives since his return to Robinson Fresh — one of those being the Daily ‘Dos Avocado program that he created and brought to market. A great example of innovation in the industry, Daily ‘Dos uses exclusive technology to offer four ripened avocados at different stages.

Hobbies: Golf, Cooking, Travel

Personal/Community: Married, two sons

Motto in life: “Go the extra mile… it’s never crowded.”

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
It took me longer than it should have to put myself out there and push new ideas out and get projects moving. I would encourage anyone that is just starting out to be as proactive as possible in their career. Take chances and make sure their voice is heard. I wish I would have done that from day one.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
The launch of the Misfits program and bringing positive attention to ugly fruit and veggies. This program to-date has moved millions of pounds of ugly fruits and veggies that otherwise may have gone unharvested or unsold in a traditional retail environment.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
We need to continue to focus on helping growers to move the whole crop. As an industry, we still have too much of a myopic view of what “good product” needs to look like and what we choose to put on the shelves for our end customers. The world is embracing fruit that isn’t perfect and shoppers are realizing that often cosmetically ugly fruit can taste better, cost less, and is a responsible choice when making their purchasing decision. We need to re-evaluate our specs and continue to focus on fresh more than sizing and appearance.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
Data. We have been able to gather and leverage data and information so much more effectively than I would have ever thought possible 15 years ago. The trajectory of this part of the business is accelerating so quickly and I am excited to see the advancements in the years ahead.

Douglas Posthuma, 38

Buying Manager
Alsum Farms and Produce Inc.
Friesland, WI

Posthuma has been with Alsum for 17 years and has worked in nearly every aspect of the company from onion buying to potato and onion sales, to now building trusted relationships with growers and customers. His responsibilities have evolved to collaborate with farmers, monitor market trends on potato stocks and varieties. He has been central to building the company’s relationships with farm supplier partners and customers. He is a key driver of the business, working to determine customer pricing and returning a favorable price to the farmers. Posthuma started at Alsum in June of 2003 when he was hired to be the onion buyer and participate in sales. He gradually became more involved on the sales side eventually moving to serve as account manager for key national accounts. Currently, he sources potatoes while maintaining key national sales accounts.

Posthuma has furthered his leadership development and service to the potato industry as a current board of director for the United Potato Growers Cooperative of Wisconsin, attended the 2020 Potato Industry Leadership Institute (PILI) and is a graduate of the inaugural Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Member Development Program in 2019

Hobbies: Traveling, Triathlons, Hiking, Brewing Beer, Coaching varsity golf and middle school boys’ basketball

Personal: Married, two children

Motto in life: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I grew up and graduated in the community that calls Alsum Farms & Produce home. I was fortunate to start work at a family-owned and operated business that allowed me to live and work near my family. While I had very little produce knowledge, I just soaked up as much as I could as fast as I could working with our team.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would like to see the industry continuing to work on solutions to reduce food waste in our country. Every American deserves access to good nutrition and produce can fill that need. I would like for there to be better outlets and opportunities for every grower/packer/shipper and those a part of the supply chain to move product that may not be able to be sold for its original intention and use it to help feed those in need. This has come a long way through the years, but there is still a lot of opportunity out there to help conquer hunger in America.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Jump in 100 percent. It is a great industry to be a part of because the people — from growers, customers to suppliers, are all dedicated and passionate about the industry and their businesses. You will make lifelong friendships built on honesty, integrity, trials and challenges.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
The biggest change from when I started to where we are now is the change in consumer packages. In the potato industry you see more of a shift toward smaller specialty packs now more than ever. The 5-pound pack is still the largest volume potato pack. Demand for specialty packs of 12 ounce to 3-pound is growing by consumers based on lifestyle trends and demographics.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the produce industry by the public at large?
One of the biggest misconceptions about the produce industry by the public is that farmers are not good stewards of the farmland. Ultimately, the health and future of the farm business is pivotal to land stewardship to grow a quality crop to bring to market. Each year we implement new technologies as part of our good agriculture practices to help us improve the quality of the soil and water. Our success and future vitality depend on being a steward of our land so ultimately we can pass the farm legacy to the next generation to grow and nurture the land for decades to come.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Everything that comes out of the ground or off the tree does not come out of a mold. As much as we would love to make all the produce as eye appealing as it is delicious or nutritious, it just is not possible. There is way too much produce that doesn’t get sold because of the way it looks. There is a movement for Imperfect Produce, but I think we have a long way to go to find a value and a place for produce that is not picture perfect. There are many influences affecting the way produce looks that are beyond a farmer’s control when mother nature is your business partner.

Q: What would you like to be doing in your career when you turn 50?
I would like to continue to give back to the industry by volunteering to serve on national potato boards and committees. Being more involved in the industry allows one to grow, connect and network with some of the industry’s brightest minds. Additionally, I would like to mentor the next generation of produce professionals to pass along knowledge and equally learn from and be a voice of encouragement to them. I would also like to continue to grow my relationship with our growers.

Natalie Ramirez, 34

Retail Sales Manager
Watsonville, CA

Ramirez is known to be incredibly passionate about her work and dedicated to continuing to develop her skills as a leader. With Driscoll’s for nearly 13 years, she has taken on a variety of roles that helped her shape her knowledge and experience as she has moved up. She has been the go-to person for the retail department because of this experience and her willingness to help others. Most recently, she was involved in helping develop a mentorship program for the sales and marketing departments within Driscoll’s. Ramirez started off at Driscoll’s in 2007 as a national loading windows coordinator; the department was a pilot program at the time set up to transition away from first-come-first-serve at the company’s distribution centers. The goal was to create an appointment-based system for loading. After the program was trialed and successfully converted all its distribution sites to appointments, Ramirez moved onto sales as a retail sales coordinator. She assisted with various national and regional retail accounts. She then became a sales representative handling national accounts with a concentration on the East Coast.

After several years, she moved into sales demand management as a blueberry demand manager before becoming retail sales manager. In her current role, Ramirez executes against customer specific demand targets utilized from annual demand plan that follow customer prioritization and strategy through partnership with category development, demand management and marketing. She is responsible for daily and weekly alignment, supporting berry business plan objectives and strategies. She serves as a communication liaison between retail representatives and demand management to represent market conditions, and builds and maintains successful relationships both internally and externally through collaboration of enterprise strategy and goals. She is a contributing subject matter expert to enterprise project initiatives and goals through new system implementations and process improvement efficiencies.

Hobbies: Yoga, Cycling, Travel, Spending time with family

Personal/Community: Married, 2 children

Motto in life: “Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”
—Theodore Roosevelt

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
It’s a bit cliché however I had multiple reasons why I was attracted to the produce industry. My grandparents both were growers and/or harvesters and I had multiple family members who worked at Driscoll’s while I was growing up. My father Albert Quintero recently celebrated his 40th anniversary with Driscoll’s and when I was four years old we moved to Mexico while he was in the QA department before he transitioned into sales. Seeing the passion my family and father had for Driscoll’s, I knew this would be the company I wanted to work for from a really young age.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
The accomplishment I am most proud of in my career is finding what I truly love to do. I have had the opportunity to work within different departments at this company and have had the ability also to be a member of our regional philanthropy and sustainability teams while doing what I love.

Q: How has the industry changed during your tenure?
I had the opportunity to learn from multiple seasoned produce veterans who always told me early on it was best to just pick up the phone when I needed something versus waiting for an email to come through. If it was urgent and it could be handled through the phone do so and it gives you the opportunity to pick up on valuable market intel and knowledge while building your network through a quick conversation. It must have been one of the best things for me while I was growing within sales, I was able to get things done quickly and efficiently.

Christina B. Ward, 37

Director of Global Brand Marketing
Sunkist Growers
Valencia, CA

Ward brings nearly 17 years of marketing and communications experience to the citrus cooperative. She started her career on the agency side, working on major lifestyle and foodservice brands, and later went in-house championing the transformation of communications programs and marketing strategies. As the head of global brand, she leads Sunkist’s integrated marketing and communications efforts, including public relations, advertising, consumer response, and social and digital content. She oversees all brand marketing strategies domestically and in Sunkist export markets, which included an event in Vietnam to mark the reentry of U.S. oranges in the market. In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, she has taken her responsibilities to new levels, communicating regularly with employees, growers, packinghouses and customers as things change daily. She launched the Share What’s Real platform to encourage consumers to share real talk, real food and real experiences on social media using Sunkist citrus.

Ward is a California native and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from California State University of Long Beach. She has been essential in the donation of Sunkist citrus to hospitals, schools, and food banks. Another fundamental part of her job is delivering critical communications to the Sunkist community, including employees, growers, packinghouses, customers, and consumers. As a community leader, Ward served on the advisory board for UpaDowna and the Kids on Bikes board. She currently serves on the Produce for Better Health Board of Trustees and the 2020 Demand Creation Committee for the Produce Marketing Association.

Hobbies: Going to the beach, playing vinyl, trying new restaurants

Personal/Community: Married, 1 son

Motto in life: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I was born in California and I grew up with an appreciation for ag. My produce career began at Sunkist, a brand I enjoyed as a kid. Sunkist is synonymous with happiness. I was attracted to the idea of being a part of delivering this happiness to people worldwide.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Things don’t grow overnight; neither do people. Be patient.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Ask questions and learn as much as you can, even outside of your specialty. There’s never a dull moment in produce, so take it in. Take it all in.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
It’s important to engage the end-user. Consumers need to know how fun and easy it is to bring produce into their day-to-day, and part of that is to stay top of mind. I think the industry is moving in the right direction. Together, we just need get louder and maintain relevance in this fast-paced world.

Q: What would you like consumers to know about the industry?
Produce doesn’t grow itself.

Q: Which social media platform for business do you use the most and why?
Instagram because it’s a great platform for storytelling with pictures and videos. Also, I like how consumers get inspired by posts on Instagram by showing creative ways to use citrus. It’s rewarding when they share their pictures of how they brought Sunkist into their lives.

Jeffrey Weisman, 34

Senior Vice President
The Ruby Company
Buffalo Grove, IL

Weisman left screenwriting in Los Angeles and entered the world of produce nearly 10 years ago. He started as an entry level sales rep and has worked his way up the ranks all while demonstrating outstanding leadership qualities. He has helped to build and maintain decade-long relationships by practicing fair, honest, and ethical business. He began by assisting one of the company’s previous owners in streamlining his book of business and process. Weisman was able to take those relationships and exponentially grow them through putting together new potato and onion contracts with great growing partners. Not long after, he began handling his own book of business including some of the largest customers in the company. By gradually taking on more responsibility and embodying a whatever-it-takes mentality to grow the supplier as well as customer base, he soon advanced into the head of onion sales and contracting for Ruby Robinson and Produce Alliance. He remains at the helm of this category.

When Ruby Robinson and Produce Alliance split, Weisman was able to take an equity stance in Ruby Robinson and the title of senior vice president. He remains very active in both the procurement and sales roles, but has also taken on a business development and sales training role for new hires as well. Under his direction, the company has turned its focus to new ventures within the company – including logistics, private label branding, and growing and maintaining the company’s core values.

Hobbies: Running, Weightlifting, Cooking, Craft Beer, Podcasts

Personal/Community: Married; three Children; support for Epilepsy Foundation

Motto in life: “You create your own luck through hard work.”

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
My best friend, and our company president, David Cohen, exposed me to the industry. He and I have always been business partners dating back to selling baseball cards, Beanie Babies, and CDs and ultimately pagers and cell phones in the mall. We have always worked well together, and fed off of each other’s energy. I knew I wanted to make a difference in an industry, and produce was the perfect intersection between old school face to face business relationships and the new school of using technology to leverage data.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I would like to see service and quality supersede price more than they currently do. We all know the importance of controlling cost of goods. However, trusting a track record of performance and reliability will be a less expensive option than making decisions strictly on price alone.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
The moment I knew the industry was the best choice for me was when I visited some of our onion and potato growers in Idaho. I saw how hard our growers worked to support their families and the tremendous sacrifice they would make to do it.

Q: What are some of the more challenging aspects of a career in the produce industry today?
Differentiation. Nobody wants to be the low price leader on a consistent basis. Convincing customers to treat products and brands we sell as more product based rather than as straight commodities is a challenge. We try to make that difference up in our commitment to elite service and marketing. We differentiate ourselves by being available 24/7 and taking care of inevitable issues that will arise.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
With the current COVID-19 crisis going on, I think we are going to see diversification and food safety as the two most important issues.

Thomas Wheelus, 30

National Account Manager
Taylor Farms
Salinas, CA

Wheelus’ produce career started right out of high school when he was offered an opportunity to work in a quality assurance/quality control position with Custom Produce (Parlier, CA) while taking classes at the local junior college and online. His time in the cooler then transitioned into the sales and accounting office. After several years with the Custom produce team he was offered a sales job with Mann Packing of Salinas. His focus was the Canadian, and primarily retail market where he demonstrated a keen understanding of the unique ethnic markets throughout the provinces and the impact on the company’s product sets. After three and a half years at Mann, he was approached by Taylor Farms and moved to his current position. He now manages some of Taylor Farms’ largest national accounts and has created substantial sales growth. He has also worked hand-in-hand with engineers to create manufacturing efficiencies in the company’s salad plant.

Hobbies: Competitive waterskiing, Mountain biking, Hot rods and motorcycles, Native Sons of the Golden West and the Elks Lodge

Personal: Married, one son and another son on the way

Motto in life: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
Adapt to change, and be the leader who drives that change. Our industry is constantly evolving on nearly every front. As an industry we learned to adapt to market changes driven by the media, meet and exceed government requirements on product testing (with a focus recently on water practices) and as a member of the Taylor team we were at the forefront of these changes to raise the bar for our competitors. Another example of adaption to change related to labor challenges, is the Taylor Farms team has been a leader in automation. This involves adapting skillsets to the ever changing jobs throughout the company as we deploy multiple automated machines both in the fields and at the plant.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
I believe our industry needs a more current and active governing body. I would like to see our industry leaders come together to form a team which truly raises the bar on all fronts — automation, food safety and consumer awareness. In order for the produce industry to combat the challenges we face every day having a common goal and certain raised bars to strive for will ensure consumers can enjoy safe products with little doubt of how it was grown, or what practices were used to harvest, wash or process the foods they enjoy.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
If our industry can teach the importance of healthy eating to the youth of America at the school level, we can likely improve their overall lifestyle at home, and as they grow. The resources to promote healthy eating continue to be readily available, especially when utilizing social media platforms. It is our responsibility as an industry to ensure we are supplying recipes and the items consumers want to enjoy.

Q: What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?
Food safety will remain at the top of the list until every company can isolate, mitigate, and eliminate foodborne illnesses from fresh produce. With recent events in the news and social media around illnesses tied to produce, the pressure on our industry to eliminate these issues is at an all-time high. The spinach outbreak in 2006 was truly the pivotal event that changed the emphasis on the industry’s food safety practices. Until our industry can provide a true kill step, I believe there will remain a heavy emphasis on food safety procedures.

Mackenzie Wortham, 31

Account Director
DMA Solutions, Inc.
Dallas, TX

Wortham joined DMA Solutions in 2011 and since has been instrumental in the launch of some of the most comprehensive and visually-compelling websites, blogs, and marketing promotions on behalf of DMA’s clients. Now as an account director, she leads the overall marketing strategy and planning for DMA’s clients in an effort to help them realize their marketing and business goals. She is also one of three members of the executive team at DMA Solutions. In this role, she is responsible for development of the business, its culture and its people. She is a 2018 graduate from the Center for Growing Talent PMA Emerging Leaders Program and currently serves on the PMA Fresh Summit Planning Committee. Prior to joining DMA, she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Public Relations from the University of North Texas. She started as a public relations coordinator for a local political talk show in Dallas before beginning her journey in produce.

Hobbies: Traveling, Wine tasting, Fitness bootcamp, Running, Concerts with husband

Personal/Community: Married

Motto in life: “Whatever you want to do, if you want to be great at it, you have to love it and be able to make sacrifices for it.” – Maya Angelou

Q: How did you begin working in the produce industry?
I quickly fell in love with the produce industry after my first couple of months at DMA Solutions. While I did not study agriculture or come from an agriculture background, I wanted a career that would be more than just a marketing job, and DMA attracted me quickly with the culture and opportunities provided. What I found with the fresh produce industry was exactly that – it’s more than just a job.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
It’s exciting to see the produce industry continue to focus on innovation and identifying new products with solutions to meet people’s needs. At the same time, as an industry I believe we sometimes struggle to embrace the realities of what creating successful brands consumers seek out by name would entail. If we want to move the dial on not just increasing consumption, but increasing demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, we should embrace opportunities to move away from “commodity thinking” and consider ways to behave as brands – brands that are able to establish personal connections with their audiences that keep them coming back for more.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
Shoppers are increasingly seeking transparency and a direct connection to the brands they are most loyal to. With digital marketing where it is today, the stage has been set for produce companies to take control of their own stories and share them with consumers directly, meeting them where they are to inspire increased consumption and demand for the products they grow.

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the produce industry by the public at large?
I believe the general public has a lot of misconceptions about how fresh food is grown and brought to the marketplace – from GMOs to pesticides to food waste, many people are being exposed to misleading information. It can be difficult to distinguish between a reliable or biased source. Even some seemingly reliable news outlets can mislead their readers because they often aren’t seeking input from our industry as a source before they publish content. I think one of the biggest examples of this is the Dirty Dozen report published each year by the Environmental Working Group. News outlets share this information each year, but they aren’t interviewing fresh produce growers to add their two cents to this story. There is an opportunity for us to speak up and be a part of this narrative.

Jay Zimmerman, 31

Western and Mid-Western Regional Sales Manager
Love Beets USA LLC
Bala Cynwyd, PA

Zimmerman is recognized in the industry as a talented salesperson whose skills are only matched by his reliability and perseverance. After being graduated from the University of Idaho, and a short stint in the finance industry, he knew he wanted to move back to the Wenatchee Valley and work in the produce industry. He began his career at Crunch Pak Sliced Apples as a marketing analyst. During his seven years there he worked in marketing, operations, logistics, and sales. He developed a cost-saving 3PL program for the company’s East Coast business, managed all co-packing operations, and was the account manager for a number of national accounts.

In August of 2019, he joined the Love Beets team in a regional sales manager role. In this position, he works with customers on building out promotional plans and introducing new items to help increase sales. He is also responsible for building out annual raw material and sales budgets by customer to help ensure consistent supply chain for each individual retailer. During the past months, he has worked closely with managing major retail and independent accounts across the United States, as well as helping develop a 3PL solution for freight cost-saving measures. Zimmerman currently serves on the Membership Committee for the Fresh Produce and Floral Council (FPFC).

Hobbies: Golf, Tennis, Hiking, Hanging out with friends

Motto in life: Laugh and be happy.

Q: What do you know now you wish you knew when you first started your career?
I wish I had a better understanding of the entire supply chain model. I found it very interesting learning about all the integral parts of supply chain and how important each step is to have fresh produce available for consumers.

Q: What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?
Comprehending how all parts of the supply chain have to work together in order for your produce item to make it to the retailer/end user. If one link in the chain is broken or not working properly, it can disrupt everything.

Q: What industry improvements would you like to see?
Educating consumers. There are so many produce options available to consumers that it can become overwhelming on what to choose, what fruits and vegetables go nicely with their everyday meal plans.

Q: What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?
Get involved. There are so many opportunities to get involved within the industry through various committees, organizations, etc.

Q: What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?
I think consumer awareness is extremely important. Working in the produce industry I have learned about new fruits and vegetables that I have never heard of or tried before. I think teaching the consumer how to pair certain vegetables or fruits with their everyday meals will help produce become a bigger part of their everyday routine.

Q: What was the “aha” moment when you knew the produce industry was the best choice for you?
When I realized how fast things move and can change in the industry. Everyday is different and presents a fun new challenge.

Q: How have you changed during your tenure?
I feel the industry has changed my appreciation for fresh produce. Learning and understanding how much goes into providing fresh produce to retailers on a daily basis, makes me truly appreciate how fortunate we are to have fresh produce readily available.