Raina Nelson wanted to become a doctor until she found a shortcut that enabled her to accomplish her goal of saving lives without spending years in medical school.
Now senior vice president supply chain for Rancho Cordova, Calif.-based Renaissance Food Group, Nelson was born into a second-generation citrus-producing family in central Florida.
She didn’t want to pursue a career in agriculture, though, setting her sights on medical school instead.
She stumbled into the food science arena as she was preparing to enter the medical field and “fell in love with the aspect of making the supply chain safer for people.”
It was a path that she said enabled her to get involved in almost every segment of the produce industry.
Nelson earned food science-related bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Florida and accepted a job with Miami-based Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc. right out of grad school.
She started out in a quality-assurance capacity in Del Monte’s fresh-cut operation and moved on to product development.
She expanded her expertise at Rosemont Farms in Boca Raton, Fla., when she got into imports, supply chain management and business management.
It was a tough learning curve, she said, “But it was an incredible opportunity and afforded me knowledge and expertise about the supply chains that I never had.”
Rosemont Farms was absorbed by Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Robinson Fresh, where she served as director of imports before being hired by Renaissance Food Group as vice president of sales and then transitioned to her present position two years ago.
Nelson said she has adopted a “style of servant leadership” as she guides her direct reports — vice presidents of procurement, quality assurance and food safety, and product development.
“I want to support the total business goals, but I also want to make sure that my team feels that they are in a leadership role right beside me,” she said.
Listening and incorporating their feedback into the decision-making process is key, she said.
She is a member of the executive board of the Southeast Produce Council and leads the STARS — Southeast Top Agricultural Recruits Scholarship — committee to recruit and retain talent in the industry.
“I had people invest in me when I was younger, so I feel that it’s my mission to give back,” she said.
David Sherrod, president of the Southeast Produce Council, commended her on the “internal light and enthusiasm” that she exudes.
“Her dedication and attention to detail (are) a tremendous asset to the produce industry,” he said.
Under her direction, the STARS program “has flourished into one of the flagship recruiting programs in our industry today,” he said.