Foundational Excellence: New Industry Professionals Learn About Current and Future Trends

BY DOUG OHLEMEIER, Produce Business

Tim York of Markon Cooperative

Tim York of Markon Cooperative

Newer produce industry professionals learned how different life and selling and distributing produce could be in the near future during the Foundational Excellence program. The daylong conference was sponsored by the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS. Newer produce professionals are also helping change the industry.

Cornell University’s Future-Leaders-In-Produce program was designed to fill a void of educational opportunities for produce professionals with less than five years of industry experience. Participants heard from Cornell program leaders, who addressed changing consumer trends, a strikingly altered retail landscape, and management and career development.

Rod Hawkes, a Cornell senior extension associate, discussed how Walmart, Amazon and discount retailers such as the Dollar stores are disrupting the retail scene. In the future, supermarkets will have a hard time competing against others if they aren’t differentiated. Retailers can use their produce departments to set themselves apart from their competitors.

“This is by far the most disruption we’ve had in food retailing,” says Hawkes. “In terms of what’s happening with stores and online retailing, this is the most change and disruption of sales we’ve seen. The U.S. population is growing a little, but the pie of retail sales is not growing enough to absorb all the sales being taken from mainstream retailers by the discounters.”

As with the changing retail landscape, managing people is also different. William Drake, a senior extension associate in Cornell’s Food Industry Management program, gave participants career and leadership advice. “Turbulence is the norm,” he says. “It requires a new way of looking at organizational life, strategy, design and leadership.”

Hunts Point Market’s Myra Gordon

Hunts Point Market’s Myra Gordon

A critical issue is labor, from growing and shipping through distribution and marketing to retailing, Jim Prevor, founder and editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS, said in opening remarks. “The major industry challenge is how do we attract the best talent?” he asked.

Participating in a panel of produce industry professionals, Gabriela D’Arrigo, vice president of marketing for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York, observed how employees who originate from outside the produce industry have helped D’Arrigo’s California growing and Hunts Point Terminal Market’s wholesaling operations. “A new wave has come to the market,” she says. “The people who have made the biggest difference in our company don’t come from produce. They have brought a new spirit. The difference has been really drastic.”

In a discussion on innovation, Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative, based in Salinas, CA, noted how fresh-cut processing was most innovative from the 1980s through 2000. “You have to look for other ways to be creative,” he says. “It becomes more challenging as you get old in the tooth.”