SAN ANTONIO, Texas--After spending the past 16 years creeping around in H-E-B produce departments, I finally had the opportunity to honor one of the people who helped make the San Antonio-based company one of the best in the country.

As I took the stage to honor Hugh Topper, the recently-retired-but-still-on-the-job group vice president of fresh foods for H.E. Butt Co., I knew the Viva Fresh Healthy Living Lifetime Achievement Award was going to a very deserving individual.

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From left, Dante Galeazzi, president/CEO of the Texas International Produce Association, Hugh Topper, Jimmy Bassetti, owner of J&D Produce, and I presented the Viva Fresh Healthy Living Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo by Eleisha Ensign, Texas Citrus Mutual)

Hugh grew up on a cattle ranch in Oklahoma, but was drawn to retail thanks to a high school job at the local IGA. After graduating from Oklahoma State University, he took a job at Fleming Foods, where he worked for 10 years before joining the H-E-B produce team.

In the 26 years he worked at H-E-B he served in many roles, from produce buyer, to director of procurement, chief merchant for Central market and eventually group vice president of fresh foods.

Throughout the industry, Hugh is known as an innovator with keen insight on consumer trends.

My own career has been influenced by shopping at H-E-B since I moved to Texas in 2002. We used to drive 60 miles to go to H-E-B when we lived in a small, rural town. I know I’ll always find something new and intriguing at H-E-B.

And my boys, they’ve grown up shopping there, so much that when they were little, they’d see the sign and say “There’s the Fruit Store!”

And it’s that outreach for children and families that has drawn Hugh’s attention in retirement. During his time at the company, he helped pioneer salad bar programs for local schools, and an annual “harvest from the heart,” which has generated more than 14 million pounds of fresh produce over the past five years for those in need during the holidays, and programs for low income elementary schools in South Texas to teach kids and families how to grow produce from their own take-home farms.

A true champion of the industry, a partner and advocate for grower-shippers, health and wellness, it was an honor to present the fourth annual Viva Fresh Healthy Living award, its first Lifetime Achievement honor, to Hugh Topper.

Congratulations, Hugh, and H-E-B. 

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