When Markon Cooperative was looking for a new vice president of national sales, president Tim York debated about whether to look for someone with extensive produce experience or extensive foodservice experience.
In 2006, he found both when the company brought on Melany Jolly.
Jolly got her start a little differently than most — by owning her own company, Harvest Pak, a fresh produce processing company that served San Antonio and Austin, Texas.
“When I came across a produce sales opportunity in my early twenties, I could see the potential and it just felt very right for me,” Jolly said. “I worked hard at it, and it went well.”
Jolly sold the company to Sysco, a major customer, and in 1986, joined Sysco Food Services of San Antonio as produce and perishables manager.
A few years later, after a stint as national accounts manager for City Produce Inc., Jolly played an entrepreneurial role again, founding Premier Produce Inc. She spent eight years building that company and developing its client list, which included Six Flags, Darden Restaurants and Outback Steakhouse, among others.
Joseph Larry Jackson met Jolly when she was with Premier Produce and he was managing an Olive Garden restaurant in San Antonio.
“We had a preferred company that we would use, but she came in the back door with a clip board, very enthusiastic,” Jackson said.
“Usually things were very automatic. What I really liked about her — her energy and excitement about the business was strange — for a produce person to be so excited about their job.
“And then she told me she had her own company, and that was great for me because I had just opened my new restaurant myself.”
Jackson said Jolly was responsible for changing the way he bought produce by convincing him to think about the amount of usable product in a package instead of just the size and cost of the package itself.
“She helped me understand the difference between yield and price,” Jackson said.
“It was something our company didn’t really look at. She also knew how to get her providers that had the most amount of yield. It affected me in two good ways. First, we saved money, and my food costs went down dramatically,” he said.
“Since my food costs went down, everyone wanted to know how I did that, and I told them I paid more money for produce,” Jackson said.
In 1997, Jolly sold Premier Produce to FreshAmerica, and remained with the company as executive vice president before taking a brief hiatus to work as a paralegal and business partner in a law firm.
In 2001, Jolly rejoined Sysco’s San Antonio division, and remained there a year before being bumped up to regional director of business development for the Western and Southwestern regions. She ended her time at Sysco in 2006 as regional senior director for the Southwest region.
“I was approached by Sysco to return, initially in the produce and perishables area, then because of the many multi-unit customer relationships built with Premier, to pioneer a focus on developing emerging chain grocery customers for them,” she said.
With Markon, Jolly was immediately charged with leading the company’s development of multi-unit national accounts.
“She had relationships with a number of multi-unit accounts already, and that was helpful to open some doors for us,” York said.
“I think there are a couple things she does really, really well, and one is seeing things from a customer’s perspective.”
York said Jolly works hard to meet the expectations of Markon’s foodservice operator customers, and sometimes that’s meant twisting the arm of a distributor member to do something in a different way.
“Ultimately, I look at her as an advocate on behalf of foodservice operators, while she’s working for our distributors,” York said.
“You’ve got 10 different member companies that approach the business differently. What she does well is get them to all work together for the common good.”