(July 28, 9:29 a.m.) Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Bakersfield, Calif.-based Grimmway Farms, one of the biggest carrot grower-shippers in the world, received The Packer’s seventh annual Foodservice Achievement Award.

Greg Johnson, editor of The Packer, presented the award to McNeece on July 27, during the Produce Marketing Association’s 2008 Foodservice Conference & Exposition in Monterey, Calif., July 25-27.

Johnson said 44-year-old McNeece chosen for the award for her innovative marketing skills and good, old-fashioned hard work. He told the room full of conference attendees of some of her peers’ comments about her.

“One said she’s really good at listening to customers about their needs and finding creative ways to meet them,” Johnson said. “Another said she has the ability to work well with anyone she comes in contact with. Her customers quickly become her friends.”

He said McNeece not only made baby carrots an award-winner for Grimmway, but when the company needed a solution to what to do about the byproduct they told her to find a home for it.

“Now it’s used across the country,” he said. “It’s shredded, it comes in chips, and sticks, it’s diced and crinkle cut.”

Melon shipper after college

Having studied journalism and public relations in college, at one time McNeece thought she would work in mass media. However, in 1990, she found herself in Bakersfield, Calif., after the melon shipper she worked for part-time while in college and then full-time after graduating, decided to relocate their main office there.

A few years later, the company’s receptionist told her about a small family operation called Grimmway Farms that was just starting up with its baby carrots program.

“They were looking for someone for the sales office to work between sales and production,” she said.

A home for carrot tops

Soon after joining the company McNeece became its first outside sales person.

“We were doing so much production on the baby peeled carrots and we had this excess, the tops of the carrots, which we wouldn’t put into the baby bag,” she said.

When she went looking for that home she was told to find for the carrot tops, her first customer was the Joe Nucci, the late president of Mann Packing Co., Salinas, Calif.

“He took the chunks and blended them into his broccoli slaw,” she said. “At that time, Mann was just starting out with its broccoli slaw. It turned out to be a great partnership.”

It wasn’t long, she said, before Fresh Express LLC, Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. and Taylor Farms LLC and other Salinas companies began using the carrots.

“That was the industrial side. The foodservice side has been a challenge, but it’s been great,” she said. “Foodservice is not like retail. They’re not coming in for a whole truckload of product, so you’ve got to get out there and try to make sure you have a niche for each of your customers because each one is looking for something a little bit different.”

She said the company continues to work closely with its customers to build strong alliances and partnerships.

“Unfortunately, we lost both Rod and Bob Grimm,” she said. “If they were here today they’d probably smile at seeing how this company has gone from a little carrot shipper to the type of shipper we are today.”

Through her efforts, the carrots are now found topping salads in fast-food chains, in airports and school cafeterias. She told The Packer in March that she still hopes to get them into sports arenas, delis and even vending machines.

Patience

“I've been taught in this company that patience is a virtue,” she said then. “So you continue to work with these organizations and companies and provide benefits and tell them the pros of this product and why they should try it and eventually you'll get a hit. And once you've done it, others will follow.”

McNeece is on PMA’s Education Foundation Board, the Produce for Better Health Board and U.S. Department of Agriculture Fruit and Vegetable Advisory Committee. In the past, she was on PMA’s Foodservice Board and its board of directors, as well as the PBH executive committee.

Grimmway V.P. wins achievement award
Greg Johnson, editor of The Packer, presents The Packer’s Foodservice Achievement Award to Lisa McNeece, vice president of foodservice and industrial sales for Grimmway Farms.