How can we identify the power of an individual within any sphere of human activity? 

How can we separate a person’s role in life from the era in which they lived?

Surely it is a difficult task, but certain individuals attract attention in the way they approach problems, engage with people, and articulate solutions.

As part of our industry survey related to The Packer’s 125th-anniversary edition,  we have asked a number of questions looking at industry progress and future prospects.

Here are a few blog posts that review those poll questions and industry answers:

Biggest changes in produce packaging? Let us count the ways

Pick three - changes coming in the next 25 years

What is the future of produce wholesalers? Survey says..

If only my business had...

Industry weighs in on changes to come in retailing

What’s the most important industry development?

Today’s blog post reflects industry responses to a tough question. The answers are by no means representative of the entire produce community, of course; only a few dozen people filled out the survey.

Still, let’s hear responses to this survey question:

Name one person who you believe has – in the past or the present – has had or will have an extraordinary and lasting impact on the fresh produce industry . . . and why.

From the anonymous industry responses:

  • Dick Spezzano for his work on implementing PLU standards within the industry;
  • Frieda Caplan. She proved women have a place and can make a difference in produce!;
  • Bruce Taylor - leading the convenience charge on fresh produce that helped to continue to push sales forward even as society sets aside less time to prepare meals;
  • Miles Reiter - Driscoll’s. Understands that flavor is the marketplace differentiation and has been the reason fresh berries have catapulted into the best selling produce item. Berries have driven the growth growth for the produce industry. As the only true brand in the produce industry, Driscoll’s gets the consumer;
  • Bill Montley, Rick Smith, Keith Horder;
  • I’m going to say Tom Mathison of Stemilt. He helped revolutionize the cherry industry, and has left a strong family legacy that continues to push the envelope. He was one of the first to truly recognize the importance of the cold chain with cherries and that formula is in place with numerous other produce items now;
  • I’m not being vain here but I hop it’s me. I love this business and the people in it and I hope to make it better for all. It has been my mission for the past 20 years and will continue until the day I die, maybe longer ;);
  • Jimmy Bassetti: His vision for better eating vegetables and passion to increase consumption;
  • John Shelford - In the Berry segment, he has brought integrity, innovation, and year round availability to a traditionally seasonal seasonal industry;
  • Sam Walton and Jim Sinegal of WalMart and Costco respectively, who increased sales of produce by developing new channels of distribution and made all their suppliers better;
  • Alan Siger. In 1995 he helped ensure the continuation and strengthening of PACA, which provides incredible protection for companies in the produce industry;
  • David Marguleas - he invented a whole new business, paying production royalties for proprietary items. Protecting the intellectual properties of branded fresh produce will stimulate product improvement and the ability of growers to be rewarded for inventing and patenting superior products;
  • Not possible to narrow it down to the one;
  • Roy Lundstrom (past) he was instrumental in the growing and increased importation of west Mexican veg;
  • Such a hard question to answer so I will give three; Retailer - Bruce Peterson, when he arrived at WalMart they had no produce program. The model he built with WalMart’s volume to go with it forced retailers to rethink how they compete. Some succumbed to the price image, while others created an identify to separate from price alone. The results we see today are directly related and continue to evolve. Supply Side / Grower Shipper - few people impress me, but David Jackson of Family Tree Farms is one man who made an incredible impression me. A seventh generation farmer...a man of faith and compassion and an insatiable desire to be the best. When the tree fruit deal in the SJV was teetering on disaster, he took an incredible gamble to “go big” in Mexico with blueberries over 10 years FTF blueberries are available coast to coast and globally. Supply Side / Grower Shipper - Jakov Dulcich, Pretty Lady Vineyards. I first met Nick Dulcich in the early 2000s when I was in desperate need of a revitalized table grape program for my stores. He told me in our first meeting, that if I bought grapes from him I would never want to buy grapes from another grower again. Bold words from someone who I just met and usually something that would turn me away...but something about his message stuck with me. So we embarked on a business relationship. I subsequently met Jakov within the first year I did business with the Dulcich’s. A man with broken English and a strong Croatian accent...but I didn’t need to understand Jakov to know his passion. Starting with 10 acres of land in the SJV in the 1960s on borrowed money he became a premier producer of table grapes. But more importantly he cared about his customers and those who worked for him. Jakov’s legacy will be one of hard work turning into success which alone didn’t define him. The table grape category is in a much better place because of Jakov Dulcich;
  • Whoever invented traceability, blockchain, everything is based on traceability, payments, bills, food safety, purchase orders, marketing data on consumers, etc...;
  • Dr. Bob Whitaker, as he is an innovative thinker, predictor and consolidator of ag business innovation and technology, helping the industry predict and respond to change;
  • I don’t know. We need more homegrown leaders that have come through the ranks and have the desire to take leadership;
  • Mike Aiton (Prime Time, recently retired).. Mike rose to retail prominence as a large chain director. First by his skill at handling people, second by recognizing and embracing new trends, allowing people to succeed with empowerment, and for his depth of produce knowledge;
  • Bruce Peterson;
  • Paul DiMare , a true visionary in growing tomatoes. Not only helping to finance ag. School research but implementing new techniques to plant, grow and harvest the crop. He has been a true advocate for the fresh produce industry;
  • Edward Sisler - discovery of 1-mcp to mitigate ripening effects of ethylene;
  • It would be those who are in product development bringing new items to market;
  • Tom Stenzel. Some of the work that United is doing to influence healthier choices in young children will have lasting and dramatic positive consequences for the entire industry.
  •  There are too many to name! 


TK: This is far from a complete list; I welcome follow-on comments to this post to honor others in the industry that come to mind when you read the question. I think, for example, of the many winners of The Packer’s Marketer of the Year/Person of the Year Awards over the past 30 years. Yes, there are too many leaders to name just one, but these answers from the industry compile a shortlist of respected - even revered - leaders who have made a difference.