( Photo courtesy Naturipe Farms; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

A relentless curiosity drives Janis McIntosh, director of marketing innovation and sustainability for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms.

She introduced heat-seal packaging to the berry category in 2015, a change that significantly reduces the amount of plastic per unit and allows for easier recycling by the consumer, and most recently she contributed to the collaborative movement of the berry industry to a wash-away label, a major step in increasingly the recyclability of the package.

“Packaging is constantly evolving, but she is one of those people that if she hears about something, she will research it,” said CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing for Naturipe. 

“She will go find it. She is like a sleuth when it comes to packaging, and because of that she is so well educated on the structure, the physical packaging product itself, she has learned so much about substrates and adhesives and all that — she can speak that language.

“She literally searches out those that are on the cutting edge, whether it’s for our category or not, to get their information, and she builds relationships with these people,” Arias said. 

“She’s like the mayor of packaging in the world of produce. She knows everybody. That curiosity and that tenacity to find the next greatest substrate or find the next greatest structure or manufacturing process — it’s like breathing for her. It’s just so necessary for I think her to feel fulfilled because it’s just crazy, it’s such a passion, and I’ve never worked with anybody who has more knowledge in this area than her.”

Along with countless conversations that have built her expertise over the years, McIntosh has also earned certificates in packaging management and packaging science from Clemson University and in food packaging basics from Michigan State University.

McIntosh has been in the produce industry for more than two decades, having started with Coastal Berry in Watsonville, Calif., in 1996.

“I was fortunate to be introduced to the produce industry by (then-sales manager Ernie Farley), who was passionate about berries,” McIntosh said. 

“Daily Ernie would walk the fields, shake hands with the field workers and thank them for the job they were doing. It was his factory floor. 
“My attitude towards the industry, the people and my job was shaped during those years,” McIntosh said.

She approaches projects with a farmer-first mentality, keeping in mind what adjustments any innovation might require.

“She’s very hands-on with our growers — I’d be surprised if there’s growers she doesn’t know,” Arias said. 

“She takes a lot of time to be very mindful of their needs and works with them to make sure that it’s right for their business.

“Her personal touch and connections and relationships, because she’s been with the company for so long and also been in the industry for so long, I think it makes that day-to-day piece a lot easier for her, and probably (that) more personalized connection is why she’s been so successful,” Arias said.