ANAHEIM, Calif. — It seems like there’s always a new twist at the Fresh Produce & Floral Council’s annual Expo.
This year, the council broke with tradition and combined the Northern California and Southern California expos into one event added more booths. The Northern California show debuted in 2007.
In all, about 1,500 mostly store-level produce employees attended the July 16 event and had a chance to visit a record 205 booths, FPFC president Carissa Mace said.
Rick Cruz, sales manager for the Pavilions supermarket chain, Fullerton, Calif., received the Norman H. “Buz” Bolstad Award. The award recognizes industry members for outstanding leadership and commitment.
Previous recipient Kent Kuwata, category manager for Smart & Final Corp., City of Commerce, Calif., presented the award.
A former co-worker with Cruz, Kuwata related how Cruz started his career as a produce clerk at an Alpha Beta supermarket before going to work with his brother-in-law at the independent Big Bear Market in San Diego County.
About 35 years ago, Cruz signed on with Vons supermarkets as a produce manager.
“His talent for merchandising was immediately apparent, and in a short time he was promoted to produce supervisor,” Kuwata said.
Cruz was among an elite group chosen to work for the company’s high-end Pavilions chain in 1985, when he became a produce merchandiser.
Cruz “proved himself a fearless innovator,” Kuwata said.
“Many of the ideas that he implemented at Pavilions were so successful that they were then implemented at the 300 Vons stores,” he said.
He invited farmers to stores and spoke to shoppers about local produce long before that became a buzzword.
Cruz also proved himself to be a motivational leader.
“While he is a perfectionist who has high expectations for those who work under him, he supports and motivates them to be their best,” Kuwata said.
He has volunteered his time and talent to support the FPFC and was board chairman in 2013.
The keynote speaker was Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, MVP of Super Bowl XL and winner of season 12 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
His Helping Hands USA Foundation and Helping Hands Korea focus on helping disadvantaged children.
Ward emphasized the importance of mentoring, teamwork, establishing relationships and focusing on achieving a goal.
When the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2006, “It took 53 unselfish guys to achieve that goal,” he said.
The Expo was at the Disneyland Hotel.