The director of produce for Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Super Markets started at his hometown grocer in Cleveland, Texas, in 1975.
Hired first as a service clerk, Watson, 50, was moved to produce not long after.
"I soon found out that I enjoyed the challenge of produce as it allowed me to be creative and use my organizational skills," he said.
But he wasn"t hooked – yet. A short career in the oil patch in Louisiana flopped. After being laid off multiple times in a tough economy, retail beckoned.
"I decided I needed something stable, and that is when I went to Rouses," he said. "I was hired as a night stocker and within six months, I was an assistant produce manager."
He moved up in the produce ranks and was promoted to director in 1993. The company has grown rapidly over the past decade, thanks to a "Fresh First" mentality. Rouses opened its first "fresh format" store in 1999, dedicating half its floor space to perishables.
"Rouses is Fresh First, this is our mantra in produce and everyone must live it," he said. "We began moving fresh produce to the front of the shopping experience years ago because we wanted our customers to recognize Rouses as the place to get fresh food and a fresh experience."
"Joe Watson knows how to sell produce to customers as well as anyone in the industry," said Don Goodwin of Golden Sun Marketing. "When you meet with him, he is always challenging you with ways to sell more. His approach is very refreshing and he knows his customer well."
Watson is an active member of industry associations including the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Alabama Watermelon Association and the Southeast Produce Council. He also often participates as a speaker and panelist at industry events.
He was named the 2014 Produce Retailer of the Year by Produce Retailer Magazine.
"I believe we have a responsibility to serve, otherwise you are participating without a voice," he said.