Karst chat: Bob Whitaker of PMA

03/04/2011 09:43:04 AM

We’re still in an early time to draw any conclusion. Frankly, I think specific areas will all have their own factors and I don’t think we can draw one big brushstroke that will settle this for all time. I think there will be lots of factors that we will be able to put together and perhaps build some predictive models as time goes on.


3:21 p.m. Karst: How did you get your start in the industry? What interested you in this particular field?

3:22 p.m. Whitaker: I’ll give you the short version. I’m a biochemist by training. I came out and went to the biotech industry out of graduate school in 1982. I joined a company called DNA Plant Technology Corp., which was one of the largest private ag biotech companies at the time. One of the areas we did research in were fruits and vegetables, the idea of making them more nutritious, taste better, grow in different environments, that sort of thing. As part of that job, as I progressed, I got to work with a lot of growers and processors. I got more familiar with the produce industry and I liked the people and liked the idea of raising food that is healthy and nutritious for people. Sounds a little sentimental but it is true.

DNAP bought produce companies to help move some of our products to the market place. We did a lot of joint venture research and that sort of thing. I got to work with some produce professionals and as the biotech industry started to lag a little bit in the mid-1990s, some of the folks that were working with this biotech company – DNAP – broke off and formed NewStar out in Salinas, Calif. It was really Emanuel Lazopoulos (then of NewStar) who was really on me to come over and set up food safety programs and do product development work for them. It seemed like the right time to make the change, so in 1998,

 I moved down from the biotech company in Berkeley, Calif. to NewStar to do product development and food safety. After a couple of years, I ended up moving more into the operational role and I started running our processing plants and built a couple of brand new plants with the team. I ran operations for a long time and got to know a lot of people in the industry and got involved in association work and that sort of thing. Then in 2008, Bryan Silbermann from PMA had been talking with me for a little bit about coming on board with PMA and sharing some things I learned over the years in food safety and technology with the membership, so that is why I made the decision to go with PMA in 2008.


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