Editor Greg Johnson presented the award – the first that Church, who recently turned 70, has ever received – July 26 at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference and Expo in Monterey.
Church and his company have a history of bringing new concepts to the industry including one-stop vegetable shopping, packaging designed for foodservice, mixer loads and fresh-cut processing.
Over the past 30 years, Tom Church has also been credited with popularizing such concepts as:
- field-packed broccoli;
- iceless broccoli shipments;
- fresh-hold packaging;
- controlled-atmosphere packaging;
- cleaned and cored lettuce;
- trimmed lettuce for foodservice; and
- single-leaf lettuce packs.
At an early foodservice industry expo, he even built a Statue of Liberty out of fresh produce to compete for attention against companies like Tyson Foods and Nabisco.
The award honors Church’s record as an innovator and an industry mentor.
“He’s the original out-of-the-box thinker, even though many of his ideas involve boxes,” Johnson said. “He’s been said to have ideas that are really out there but he’s been right so often, that everyone is afraid to tell him an idea is too crazy.”
Prior winners of The Packer award, such as Tim York, Bruce Taylor, David Gill and Rich Dachman, have done business with Church and sometimes been competitors, as well as friends.
He learned the industry mostly from businessman Ted Taylor before starting his own company in the early 1980s, Fresh Western. It started as a brokerage but quickly became a grower-shipper.
Today his 15-year-old company, Church Brothers Produce, continues to roll out products, among them three new salad blends under the True Leaf Farms label at the Monterey expo.