From retail to marketing and growing, Bob Mast’s passage from buyer to supplier brought him ever closer to the source of Washington apples, cherries and pears.
“It’s hard to move from the retail side to the vendor side,” said Bill Sage, vice president of Papa John’s Salads & Produce, Tolleson, Ariz. “Bob was with Fry’s for many years. To change that and go over to CMI, he picked that up and excelled at it. Not a lot of guys can do it. I would put Bob in the top two or three guys I’ve worked with in the industry in the past 35 years.”
Courtesy Columbia Marketing International Bob Mast, Columbia Marketing International Corp. Because he represents hundreds of tree fruit growers, Mast — vice president of marketing at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Columbia Marketing International Corp. — thought he should become one himself. About six years ago he started farming apples and cherries in a partnership venture.
“If growers across the state are entrusting me to go out and market their products and get the most I can for their marketing money, I need to understand every side of the operation,” he said. “It’s important to know what growers face on a daily basis — the challenge of operating an orchard and getting product to the warehouse in pristine condition so you can maximize returns and get a good product to the retailers.”
Mast, 46, came to Columbia Marketing International in 2003 from Fry’s Food Stores in Phoenix, where he was assistant director of produce, floral and nutrition for 107 stores.
Fred Bohanna, director of corporate global sourcing at Cincinnati-based The Kroger Co., which owns Fry’s, met Mast in 1997 when both worked at Fry’s.
“He was a produce manager, and we were opening up a new store,” Bohanna said. “You could see his talent in the quality of his work and that he really knew the business. I promoted Bob into a produce supervisor with responsibility for a group of stores, and then made a buyer out of him.”
A career of more than 20 years at Fry’s — a division of the Kroger Co. — brought him up through many roles, from produce manager to buyer and lead category manager.
“I tried to take those skill sets, ideas and what’s important to the retailer to this side of the business,” Mast said. “I remembered how my vendor community assisted me in driving sales and educating consumers and retail clerks. The advantage I gained is knowing which processes won’t work or are tough to execute on the retail side and which are more feasible.”