Even though this is an industry of multigenerational family farms, it’s not often a father’s offspring takes over his position at someone else’s business.
That’s happening at New York Apple Sales, Glenmont, N.Y., with the retirement of vice president of marketing Jim Allen, a 48-year produce industry veteran. At the end of June, his daughter, Tenley Allen Fitzgerald, with 11 years in the food industry, is moving up from director of brand marketing, into the position.
“It’s the same title but a different role because of the way things have changed the last few years, in the marketing realm in general, moving so much more to digital and social media and partnerships,” Fitzgerald said. “So I’ll be focusing a lot on that.”
Fitzgerald grew up tagging along with her dad, former head of the New York Apple Association, on business trips, like United Fresh Produce Association conferences.
She witnessed firsthand how much respect Allen earned over the years, cultivating relationships over the phone and in person.
That’s something that millennials like her can learn from, she said.
“Agriculture and produce is a networking business,” Allen said. “We invented the word ‘social networking’ 50 years ago, way before social media. Everything was done with handshakes. Everything was done person-to-person. It was all word of mouth, trust and relationships.”
In 1972, Allen started in the fruit processing business. He gained experience at Keystone Fruit Marketing, Greencastle, Pa., for 14 years.
In 1996, Allen joined the New York Apple Association as retail promotions director, and in 2000 he became president and CEO of the association until his retirement in 2017.
He then joined New York Apple Sales in April 2017, as vice president of marketing.
Allen has been involved in the U.S. Apple Export Council, U.S. Apple Association, United Fresh Produce Association and several New York agriculture groups.
The Packer named him the Apple Person of the Year in 2002, and the New York State Agricultural Society gave him the 2019 Distinguished Service Citation.
Dealing with more than 600 growers, Allen has faced his share of naysayers.
“What I learned is you have to confront those folks face on. You have to meet the challenge they’re throwing at you and try to learn from why they don’t like what’s going on,” Allen said. “You can’t please everybody, but you can’t run from it either.”
Fitzgerald graduated in 2009 from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in food industry management.
She has worked at Giant Food-Ahold, FreshDirect and Blue Apron. While globetrotting, she worked for Beyond Good Chocolate in Antananarivo, Madagascar, and did brand-marketing consulting for New York Apple Sales. She led the creation of the Yes! Apples consumer-facing brand, which had a soft launch October 2019.
Allen feels as proud of his daughter as all those growers whose children go out into the world only to return to the family farm.
“I’ve seen that glimmer in their eye and that pride, that ‘My son’s coming home. He’s going to work on the farm with me and take over the farm.’ I’ve always seen how proud they were, and I feel the same way,” Allen said. “If any of my passion and love for the industry was her inspiration, that just delights me to no end.”
“I’m not saddling her with a mortgage on a 500-acre farm. Maybe that’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m very grateful for her.”
Fitzgerald knows many people will miss Allen’s presence in the apple industry.
“But I’m lucky because I get to have him in my life anyway. It’s a really special thing we get to share,” she said. “I’m proud to continue the Allen presence in the apple industry for however long it will have me.”