I was thumbing through a copy of “The Packer, a Century of Produce,” published in 1993. It’s a rich collection of reflections, produce and people. When I think of 25 years ago, it still seems like yesterday.
By ’93 I had already been in the business nearly 20 years, starting at the local grocer in 1974. I saw it as a part-time, after-school job. Certainly not a career that I’d be writing about 45 years later.
By 1993 I already had worked as a produce manager in many stores, prior to The Packer’s 100-year celebration. I was fortunate to be promoted as a young produce supervisor in ’89, covering half the state, overseeing about 33 stores. By ’93 I had worked in that capacity for five years.
My time as a retail marketing “specialist” was an incredible span. During those years of monitoring and helping produce managers, my counterpart and I coordinated countless remodels and many new store openings. Those were long days (and nights), long weeks of planning and execution that only fueled our passion for the produce business. We were rewarded with a handful of trips each year, to trade shows or to tour growing areas. The experience was unforgettable.
In 1993, however, storm clouds gathered. This position would only last another year.
Our company, like some tend do to, chose to change the supervisor and buying structure. Right or otherwise, we ended up as store managers or in other, non-produce roles. It was a tough period, but I was determined to continue my produce career. So, I tested the waters elsewhere.
This new direction had its own collection of setbacks. After moving around to a few organizations, I discovered that, as in many businesses, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince, so to speak.
In retrospect, this time was challenging, yet educational. Breaking away from my original big retailer, however familiar that was at the time, was the best decision I could have made.
Among other jobs and seeing many changes, I brokered produce, worked as a quality inspector, as a foodservice buyer, and bought for a booming retail chain in southern California. And was lucky to have a small role, a voice, in this proud old newspaper. All moves that were at first frightening but taught me that every day in our industry presents something new.
Best of all, I made many lifelong friends along the way. I enjoy today’s insightful, 125-year Packer op-ed contributions by produce industry leaders, and reflecting upon ’93, and the now-worn “Century of Produce” edition on my shelf, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I can only imagine what The Packer’s “Second Century” edition will hold.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at email@example.com.