Success in bakery opened the door to produce for Ruth McLennan, vice president of fresh produce and floral for Southeastern Grocers.

Earlier in her career, she was working for Coles Supermarkets Australia as part of the group charged with turning around its fresh departments when a collection of big projects in bakery served as a springboard into another area of the store.

“We relaunched the category with several award-winning product launches, introduced new packaging, redesigned the signage, developed strong commercial partnerships and launched new store formats,” McLennan said.

“The success from bakery provided me the opportunity to then move into and lead part of the fresh produce team for Coles nationally. That’s when my journey in produce began.”

After spending about two years as the business category manager of fresh produce for Coles, she joined Southeastern Grocers in 2016 and launched the local sourcing policy for the organization the same year.

“Working with our local growers and with help from chef Curtis Stone, we celebrated all of the wonderful fruits and vegetables that are grown in our footprint in the southeastern U.S.,” McLennan said.

“One of my fondest memories from this launch was when we were sitting around the table with the (Fort Valley, Ga.-based Lane Southern Orchards) family being absolutely spoiled with the most delicious, locally sourced, home-cooked feast ... It was such a treat to hear their family stories and to look out from the dining room windows to see row upon row of the most beautiful orchard of pecan and peach trees. It was a truly special moment I will always remember.”

What has made her successful is a passion for the products as well as for the people with whom she works.

“I also love coaching and developing,” McLennan said. “My heart sings seeing people grow and flourish, whether it’s a promotion, a new role or an external award. I’ve been very lucky having worked with such amazing teams here in the U.S., Australia and the (United Kingdom).

“With a strong, motivated team anything is possible,” McLennan said.

“It’s through my team’s commitment, drive and experience that we’ve been able to deliver some amazing accomplishments.”

McLennan has quickly gotten involved in the broader U.S. produce industry, including as a board member of the Produce Marketing Association.

“I feel very honored to have this opportunity, and I am very much looking forward to being able to work closely with real produce experts,” McLennan said.

“I hope through this collaboration I can continue to learn, grow and teach with some of the best.”

With significant experience already under her belt, she aims to do plenty more in her career going forward.

“I’d like to continue to support the industry through improved supplier relationships and enhanced category management practices,” McLennan said.

“I would like to complete an external leadership course to continue on self-improvement as I am not yet finished learning and, at some point in the future, move to another country or area to experience new cultures and work through various business challenges.”

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