Ted Campbell, Florida Strawberry Growers Association
Ted Campbell, Florida Strawberry Growers Association

Just try to put a label on Ted Campbell. You can’t.

Can you call him a retail industry legend?

Sure. He’s worked in important jobs for some of the world’s largest retailers. He worked for Associated Wholesale Grocers. He’s been corporate director of produce for Supervalu. He was vice president of sales and marketing for Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery. He was chairman of the Produce Marketing Association’s board of directors in 2000.

Throughout his career in retail, he has had to nudge others to take leaps of faith. Leaps he had already made.

Recognizing the markets for international produce and yearlong availability, Campbell helped take produce departments from 200 items to 700. And when he worked for Supervalu, he went to Chile to help its growers.

He remembers the farmers there saying, “the more I produce, the better,” but Campbell taught them that if they produced less, they would create bigger fruit, and they would make more money.

He also liked the new club store format he was helping to build.

The theory instead was having the best quality. Campbell said you buy quality items, sell them at break-even prices, and make profit off of the subscriptions. Make sure a high percentage — maybe 40% — of the inventory is in-and-out stuff, not regular items, making every trip to the store a treasure hunt. That built loyalty in customers and drove even more subscriptions.

Campbell received a wide range of experience from the retail world, but don’t assume that’s his only area of expertise.

“Most of my training is from the retail side of the business,” Campbell said, “But I’m a hybrid.”

He is the executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. And he defends the Florida strawberry industry like a bulldog.

When ABC News ran a story about how strawberry growers in the state were trashing millions of perfectly good strawberries after the prices in the market crashed, Campbell wrote a letter setting the record straight.

The story had explained that berries were so oversupplied farmers couldn’t make any money selling them, so they left them in the fields. The network pointed out that homeless people could use the wasted fruit but didn’t offer a way for the already-cash-strapped farmers to somehow transport them for free.

Campbell went to bat for the farmers.

“Our guys are very busy. They’re in the field, with a short season,” he said. “They didn’t have time to write a letter. They didn’t even have time to see the story. That’s my job.”

So he wrote. He called the ABC News story “an insult” to every American food grower. He said it vilified the Florida strawberry growers “at a time when they themselves are ensuring record losses.”

Campbell’s letter wondered why the story didn’t mention the other times and places farmers couldn’t harvest their crops, or the many growers who opened their fields to locals and charities, despite the risk of damaging other crops or being sued for an accident.

Campbell also submits public comments to the government on behalf of his organization, such as about PACA trust issues. He has been president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

You can put a label on Campbell, retailer or bulldog for growers or governing leader, but none of them fully fit. He’s a man who keeps learning and growing.

“You learn through every channel,” he said, “and apply what you’ve learned in every other channel.”