As her responsibilities increased, Hofer returned to college classrooms part time.
“I took enough classes to be dangerous,” she said. “I’m not a food scientist.”
Raley’s Agri Check and Hofer’s expertise did not go unnoticed at United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association (now United Fresh Produce Association), which asked her to work with Donna Garren, then the association’s vice president of scientific (now president and general manager of NSF-Davis Fresh) and the Production and Quality Assurance Council.
The emphasis on food safety was not simply a marketing tool at Raley’s.
“That’s who we were — our integrity as a company,” Hofer said. “We always wanted to do the right thing above and beyond the law.”
Over the years, the chain has grown as it acquired other regional operations, including the Bel Air and Nob Hill retail chains. The company’s commitment to food safety, however, remains unchanged, an approach that Hofer believes could have helped a few others avoid some headaches.
“I’m sad to see so many regulations having to be passed, because in the produce industry many people have taken the initiative themselves and put many programs together than have improved the quality and the safety of the products,” Hofer said.
The challenge of offering consumers more locally grown fresh produce has added to Hofer’s duties.
“We’re working with the growers and using tools developed at United Fruit & Vegetable to make sure smaller moms and pops have the same types of assurances for food quality and safety to permit them to sell in the stores,” she said.
Regardless of size or location, grower-shippers must pass Hofer’s quality test.
“There may be times, for instance, when we don’t have cantaloupes for two days, because we’ve chosen not to offer lesser quality,” she said.
That position is supported by the family that owns the chain, Hofer said.
“They want a profit but not to the extent of failing to give our customers choices and quality,” she said.
It is a luxury that some larger chains may not enjoy, Hofer said.
Among the pleasures Hofer enjoys in her senior position is teaching young staff members to use what they learned in college.
“The quality assurance and food safety applications at retail are so broad that all of those things they learned just come alive to them and applying their science degrees is exciting,” she said.
A benefit of working in the Raley’s chain “is that you can meet really fine human beings,” Hofer said.
One of those fine human beings became her husband 20 years ago. He’s now retired, but Hofer is not yet ready to step down.
“I would look forward to retiring in the next five years to eight years,” she said. ”I don’t really have an exit plan at this time.”
When she does retire, there will be more time for her stone fruit and citrus acreage and her hobbies: singing in the church choir and playing the piano and guitar.
There will be no vocal solos by Toni Hofer, however.
“I won’t do it in person for anybody,” she said.