( The Packer )

When Landec Corp. acquired Guadalupe, Calif.-based Apio Inc. 20 years ago, Apio needed someone with experience in reverse mergers to help with the process.

The company turned to John Jackson, an Oklahoma City, Okla.-based controller for the Coca-Cola Co. for help.

“We were looking at spinning off the farming side of the business from Apio,” said Jackson, who took on the role of chief financial officer. The firm would then focus on its processing operation.

When it was all over, the company’s growers who purchased the farming operation asked Jackson to serve as CEO of the new entity that was called Apio Fresh but soon was renamed Beachside Produce LLC, based in Nipomo, Calif.

Jackson was an obvious choice for the CFO position at Apio, said Nick Tompkins, founder and then CEO of Apio.

“He was a unique find for us,” he said. 

Jackson has a “good financial mind,” he said, and a “very good intuitive mind about where the financials should help lead the business.”

Tompkins was impressed with how Jackson came from a non-agriculture background and integrated himself into agriculture production as well as sales and marketing.
“He liked the grower community and he understood their challenges.” 

Switching from the highly structured environment at Coca-Cola to the produce industry wasn’t easy.

“Anytime you take a different job, it stretches your abilities and way of thinking,” he said.

But by the time Jackson took over Beachside, he had accrued a significant knowledge base of the produce industry, and he had a strong team and an experienced group of grower/owners supporting him.

At first, Beachside provided a large part of Apio’s grower base, but that changed over time.

“We became a farming company and grower-shipper, and (Apio) was just one of our customers,” Jackson said.

Beachside went on to expand its product line that included broccoli, cauliflower, romaine and lettuce, and enhanced its Brussels sprouts, he said.

The Beachside team and the grower/owners all played a major role in the success of the new company, he said.

“We have to be able to change the way we’re moving, and I’ve got good people who work here, and they’re on top of what the market’s doing,” he said.

When it comes to running a company, Jackson said he has a three-prolonged philosophy:

“Treat people like family, hire good people, let them do their jobs.”

Having a skilled team has allowed Jackson to take the time to give back to the industry.

He is involved with Western Growers, the United Fresh Produce Association, and he was a member of the original board of California’s Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which sets food safety protocols for leafy greens.

He said he is pleased the company he set up has been able to provide “a lifetime of opportunity for the people who work here as well as our growers.” 

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