Produce industry enjoys growth mode again - The Packer

Produce industry enjoys growth mode again

07/19/2013 10:20:00 AM
Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson, EditorGreg Johnson, EditorANAHEIM, Calif. — With less than a month before The Packer’s second Midwest Produce Expo in Chicago, I figured I needed to experience one of the originators of the regional expo — the July 16 Fresh Produce and Floral Council’s Southern California Expo.

With about 1,500 attendees and 200 exhibitors for a one-day expo, it’s right in line with what other regional events offer, and FPFC has been doing it for decades.

There were some new products, but not as many as most other expos we cover.

Exhibitors said they like to take advantage of getting face time with buyers and talk with the retail store-level personnel who interacts with consumers.

Being next door to Disneyland doesn’t hurt.

Keynote speaker Joe Theismann, the former Washington Redskins quarterback, relayed some advice from a former coach, Al Saunders.

Theismann said Saunders’ philosophy is that people need to be three -ables: reliable, available and accountable.

That may apply well to football, but it probably better applies within the produce industry.

I’d have to guess that outside of “inexpensive,” those three qualities are at the top of buyers’ wishes for suppliers.

And suppliers would probably want to keep transportation partners with those at the top.

———

In the last month or two, we’ve seen some big retail acquisitions and some movement of produce executives and key salespeople from company to company or association to association.

Does that mean the produce industry is gathering economic steam after the recession?

Yes, says one industry expert.

I talked to Jerry Butt, senior partner of Pasadena-based The Mixtec Group, at FPFC, who said the first half of 2013 was the company’s busiest half year in its history.

Mixtec conducts executive searches for agribusiness companies, and Butt said the vast majority are produce companies.

He couldn’t name specific companies or people because of confidentiality agreements, but he did share some interesting points:

 

  • 53% of Mixtec searches in the first half of 2013 were for recently created positions. Butt said most of the remaining 47% are for successors to those abandoned positions.

 

“Half of the replacements are for upgraded positions,” he said, so managers become directors, and vice presidents become presidents.

 

  • Mergers are not bad. One naturally assumes mergers eliminate jobs, but Butt said that’s not the case.

 

For example, he said, if two $50 million companies merge, it creates a $100 million company. But that $100 million company wants to grow to $200 million, and if the people in place before aren’t ready for the greater responsibility, the new company hires more experienced people from other companies.

Often, those not ready to take on bigger positions stay within companies until they’re ready.

 

  • More companies are hiring marketing people.

 

“The first position often cut in a downturn is marketing, but they’re being added now,” he said. “That’s a good sign for growth.”

Butt said throughout Mixtec’s 30 years, consistently about half of positions it fills are in sales and marketing. The next biggest group is chief executive officer/president. After all, sales and management have the biggest influence on the top and bottom lines, Butt said.

He said in 2013, Mixtec is filling more operations, finance, food safety and product development positions than recently.

That’s another indicator of growth and investment.

Butt said we’re in the middle of a typical summer slowdown in personnel movement, but he expects to have a record fourth quarter based on the busy first half of the year.

Many companies target Fresh Summit as a key time to make changes and set the strategic direction for the next year, he said.

We may be hitting the up cycle on mergers, so it’s good to keep in mind that it signals growth on several levels.

gjohnson@thepacker.com

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