Editor's Note: The article that follows is part of the 13th edition of The Packer 25 Profiles in Leadership. These reports offer some insight into what drives successful people in produce. Please congratulate these industry members when you see them and tell them to keep up the good work.
Jeff Oberman has tackled some major projects in his produce career, from working on the image of fresh-cut in the wake of the spinach crisis, to helping grow the United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards program, to researching how to get more produce in convenience stores.
As vice president of trade relations for the United Fresh Produce Association, Oberman is essentially a liaison between buyers and suppliers, learning and communicating the needs of the former so the latter can meet and exceed them.
Oberman visits retailers all over the country, learning about their operations and relaying his general observations to the industry.
During his stops, he asks questions about merchandising strategy, about the competitive landscape in the area, about what kind of community the store is in and about what community partnerships it has.
Oberman said the Retail Produce Manager Awards program, sponsored by Dole, has been a great vehicle to recognize winning managers as well as make connections with retailers and gain insight about those operations.
Bil Goldfield, director of corporate communications for Dole, described Oberman as someone completely enthused about his endeavors.
“He really wants to get in there and learn about the business, what the factors are between the supplier and the retailer, and really kind of go that extra mile to understand and benefit both parties,” Goldfield said.
Oberman said it brings him joy to be able to connect people in his network and to introduce people to opportunities.
Goldfield gave the example that Oberman might reach out to Dole and ask the company to provide some tips to a retailer that has mentioned it is struggling with banana ripening or merchandising.
“It makes his role really instrumental in helping not only the retailer sell more produce but also (helping) us, as a supplier and a member of United Fresh, have those conversations with the retailer and try to solve some of the problems that they’re having,” Goldfield said.
Throughout his travels, Oberman has gained not only specific knowledge but some overarching themes as well.
“I’ve had a number of retailers say, ‘Three rules of selling to me: Know how I merchandise and sell — if you don’t visit my store first, don’t bother coming. Two, educate me ...’ So going in there, being able to share, ‘Hey, have you thought about this new thing with a university and a partnership?’ And then the third is, we’re a very competitive industry, (but) don’t go in there and bash your competition,” Oberman said.