Like many in the industry, Reggie Griffin got his start bagging groceries and working part time in the produce department.
Forty-one years later, Griffin is the corporate vice president of produce and floral for The Kroger Co., Cincinnati.
Produce is a unique challenge Griffin said keeps him motivated.
“I absolutely love working with fresh produce and floral,” he said. “It’s fresh, fast-paced and one of the most complicated areas of a supermarket. As an added benefit the people in the industry and those in our company that work in this area are superb.”
Griffin, 57, was named corporate vice president of produce and floral in 2001. He is past chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, past president of the Houston Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and served on the board of the Produce Marketing Association.
He also is chairman-elect of the United Fresh Produce Association.
Steffanie Smith, current chairwoman of the Washington, D.C.-based group and chief executive officer of River Point Farms LLC, Hermiston, Ore., said Griffin is a leader well suited to the position.
“We’re very fortunate to have him play a leadership role in the industry,” she said. “His leadership and commitment to finding supply chain solutions are an example to all of us. He’s not just here as a retailer — he’s here to help us all.”
Griffin credits three retail veterans for his success in produce.
Gene Hastings, a division merchandiser in Memphis, and his successor, Ray Klocke, guided the rookie buyer.
“As Ray moved up the corporate ladder, eventually holding the same job I hold today, he helped me move to other positions within Kroger,” Griffin said.
Third was Warren Brice, a produce merchandiser in the Houston division.
“Warren was one of the most creative and passionate people I have ever met in my career,” Griffin said.
Brice remembers Griffin as smart and bright.
“I suspected he would (go as far as he has in produce),” Brice said. “He was a quick study and has a way of getting down to the nut cutting and the true facts.”
Griffin said the industry has some work to do, and that is why he got involved with United Fresh.
“There are two things that keep me awake at night,” he said. “The first is delivering safe food to Americans every day and the second is making sure our industry works with government to support that effort. While this organization does many great things for our industry, two of their core competencies are their commitment to food safety and government relations.”
The highlight of his job, Griffin said, is getting to travel and spend time in Kroger stores to see his produce staff in action.
“These people are incredible,” he said. “Every day they set their departments and interact with millions of customers that come into our stores. This is not an easy job but they are so passionate, so dedicated and so engaged.”