When Nichole Towell says she understands the fresh vegetable business from seed to shelf, she’s not exaggerating.
Towell, now Oviedo, Fla.-based Duda Farm Fresh Food’s marketing development manager, grew up in California’s Salinas Valley on her father’s farm. He was a lettuce grower for Tanimura & Antle.
When she graduated from college, Towell got her own start in the industry working for King City Nursery, King City, Calif., selling vegetable transplants. Two years later, in 2000, she joined Duda.
“When you’re selling something, you kind of take it for granted,” Towell said. “As sales people we think ‘just load it on the truck.’ But I’ve seen the lettuce, worked in the field as a teenager, and I understand how celery, our big product, gets from seed to shelf.”
Although her role at Duda has changed in her 10 years there, Towell has always been involved in sales and marketing.
She started as a sales coordinator, worked up to sales account manager, and from there became a business analyst before moving into a role in customer development that preceded her current role.
“The whole time, I’ve been in charge of e-commerce,” Towell said.
She has also led the company’s marketing department into more consumer marketing through social media.
“In the past, I guess, produce companies don’t always have budgets to speak directly to consumers,” Towell said. “But now you don’t have to go out and spend billions of dollars in ad campaigns to speak to consumers.
“Of course we’re still doing B2B-type marketing, but the push has really been in social media,” she said.
The social sites also serve as a way for companies to monitor consumer trends in the marketplace, she said.
“Nichole has initiative that I don’t think is a learned discipline,” said Dan’l Mackey Almy, president of DMA Solutions, Irving, Texas.
The two have worked together on the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Perspectives women’s leadership events. Towell serves on the committee, and DMA Solutions handles the events.
“It’s just innate with her,” Mackey Almy said. “Her initiative and drive and ability to take an ounce of an idea and turn it into a pound of gold is just amazing.”
Towell is a member of the United Fresh Produce Association’s Produce Industry Leadership class 15, which graduates this year, and was the 2009 Tip Murphy Scholarship winner from PMA’s Foundation for Industry Talent.
“She’s dependable, and I don’t use that word loosely,” Mackey Almy said. “I could tell her once I have an idea and she’ll e-mail me two weeks or three months later and say, ‘I came across this and thought about you.’ It’s just this genuineness about her that makes it pleasurable to work with her.”
Towell said she enjoys the sales and marketing end of the industry, so that’s where she sees herself staying.
“Fresh produce has always been a part of my life, so that’s where I see myself,” Towell said. “We’re all challenged as an industry with increasing consumption, and now with the obesity epidemic, it really is all of our challenge to come up with new and exciting ways to do that.”