ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bill Laliberte, president of WJL Distributors, Thousand Oaks, Calif., is the winner of the 2009 Norman H. "Buz" Bolstad Produce Award presented by the La Mirada, Calif.-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council.

Last year's winner, Pat McDowell, vice president of Perimeter Sales & Merchandising, Los Alamitos, Calif., presented the award during the keynote luncheon at the council's annual Produce & Floral Expo on July 14 at the Disneyland Hotel.

The award was established in 2004 to recognize the guidance, contributions and dedication of leaders and innovators in the produce industry.

FPFC names '09 Bolstad award winner
                                                              Tom Burfield

Bill Laliberte, president of WJL Distributors, Thousand Oaks, Calif., accepts the 2009 Norman H. "Buz" Bolstad Produce Award during the FPFC Expo.

Laliberte, a Minneapolis native, began his produce career in 1973 with Minneapolis-based C.H. Robinson Co. He joined Los Angeles-based Cal-Pine Distributors LP in 1977 and became a partner in the company in 1979.

In 1995, he launched WJL Distributors with his wife, Ginny.

"The company has grown from just the two of them doing all the sales, answering the phones and licking the envelopes, to a staff of 10, with six salesmen specializing in apples, pears and cherries," McDowell said in introducing Laliberte.

WJL now has its own warehouse in Vernon, Calif., near the Los Angeles wholesale produce district.

"Our award recipient's no-nonsense approach to business has won him successful and profitable relationships with grocery chains throughout California, and he has become known in the produce industry for his competitive spirit, his to-the-point manner, his insistence on a positive attitude and his support of his community," McDowell said.

McDowell lauded Laliberte for having "a heart of gold" and said he is a "constant and generous supporter of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council, always ready with sponsorships, time and advice."

He has sponsored 50 Ugandan orphans and has worked with the City of Hope cancer hospital and research center in Duarte, Calif. In 2006, he and his wife received the City of Hope's Spirit of Life Award.

A committee of produce industry professionals and past award recipients selects the winner of the Norman H. "Buz" Bolstad Produce Award.