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Cream of The Crop: Two Robinson Fresh Employees Named to Produce Business’s 40 Under Forty
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Cream of The Crop: Two Robinson Fresh Employees Named to Produce Business’s 40 Under Forty

We have the most dedicated and responsive team of fresh supply chain professionals here at Robinson Fresh®. So it really came as no surprise when two of our employees were named to the 2019 Produce Business’s 40 Under Forty list of “the best and brightest young leaders.” Chosen by fellow industry mentors, both award winners exhibit the cream of the crop here at Robinson Fresh as people you can rely on.

Throughout their careers, both Benjamin Schmidt and Ryan Sugrue have made extensive contributions to the success of our company. They embody our “go the extra mile” dedication to our Robinson Fresh customers. We couldn’t be more proud of them and for them.

More about Benjamin Schmidt, account manager, strategic services

After graduating from Iowa State University in 2003, Benjamin Schmidt joined Robinson Fresh in an entry-level position in the produce division. Early in his career, Ben led a Robinson Fresh initiative to increase locally grown produce available at retail stores.

By working with small, under-resourced, and minority-owned farms to bring their products to market, he helped boost these viable and growing agricultural businesses. These growers learned about food safety, crop diversification, planning strategies, and best practices to improve crop yield and quality.
Ben’s current position is a strategic account manager with oversight for some of the company’s most important customer relationships. He continues to play a role in talent development by acting as a mentor and coach for the next generation of leaders. Below are questions provided by Produce Business as well as one from our team to get to know Ben a little better.

What do you think the industry can do to promote more produce consumption?

Innovations such as online shopping, grocery home delivery, and meal kits are proving successful in meeting the needs and desires of today’s consumer. To increase consumption, we need to continue to meet the shoppers where they want to buy and how they want to buy. The industry has to continue to evolve around consumer education, flavor profiles, health benefits, meal ideas, and social responsibility issues (fair trade, labor practices, etc.).

Do you see the produce industry as a united front or is it more about the particular items or silos?

I think the industry is made up of numerous silos that feed into the greater good of a unified front to the rest of the world. Whether you’re a grower/shipper, marketer, supply chain expert, or retailer, everyone has a part to play in making the industry grow. Whether it’s apples or zucchini, we all want consumers to eat more produce.

What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?

Transportation and supply chain is the most critical hot button facing the industry today and in the years to come. New regulations, driver utilization at high percentages, and a strong economy are driving a new logistics norm. Looking toward the future, excellence in fresh supply chain management, strategy, and planning will be required.

Robinson Fresh Question: How do YOU go the extra mile for your customers?

I think about all the extra ways we work with our customers. How we leverage our category management tools to help think through marketing and merchandising strategies. How we help educate about the trends in the industry to react to evolving consumers. How we use crop and industry data to help plan the right promotional strategy to drive sales. And even how we look at supply chains differently than others in the marketplace.

It comes down to understanding our customers’ businesses and making sure the Robinson Fresh team is aligned with their goals and desired outcomes. If we do that right, we’re helping our customers grow their business and acting as an advisor, not just providing a box of produce.

More about Ryan Sugrue, business development manager

Starting with Robinson Fresh at the buying desk in 2003, Ryan Sugrue quickly worked his way into national account management where he helped develop Robinson Fresh’s Managed Procurement Services which uses technology, expertise and impactful logistics to help reduce costs and complexities in supply chains.

He graduated from the United Fresh Produce Executive Program at Cornell University in 2017. Shortly thereafter, he assumed a managerial role overseeing business development in the foodservice vertical for Robinson Fresh.

Ryan’s considerable experience in account management, supply development, and leadership across the Midwest, Southeast, and internationally helps drive our business across both retail and foodservice. Below are questions provided by Produce Business as well as one from our team to get to know Ryan a little better.

What aspect of the business challenged you the most early on?

I needed to slow down. I would jump into problem-solving mode before really listening and uncovering all aspects of the problems or customers’ needs.

What industry improvements would you like to see?

I love the trend of more sustainable, local, and regional produce being grown across the United States, and we need more of it.

What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry?

Stick with it. The change and the ups and downs can sometimes be a bit much, but the people are what make this industry really great. Plus, we get to put fresh fruits and vegetables on your dinner table, which is not that bad of a gig.

What do you see as the most critical “hot button” issue facing the industry in the next decade?

There are three issues facing the produce industry in the next decade: technology, technology, and technology. Home delivery, robotics, driverless trucks, local and regional grown hydroponic greenhouses—all of these are changing the landscape of our industry and will continue to do so.

Do you see the produce industry as a united front or is it more about the particular items or silos?

I see us very much as a united front. The produce industry is a tight-knit community. Our customers are also our competitors, suppliers, and friends.

Robinson Fresh question: How do YOU go the extra mile for your customers?

You’re only as good as your word. Overselling or under-delivering is a quick way to lose business, and more importantly, lose the trust I have with the customer. Being someone who consistently provides solutions and is someone customers can trust is how I succeed.

Relationship growth, in-person meetings, continually evolving, and adding value to my customers and their businesses are all examples of how I go the extra mile.

Going the extra mile

Our two Product Business’s 40 Under Forty winners are featured here, but every employee at Robinson Fresh works hard to reduce the cost and complexity of supply chains with technology, expertise and impactful logistics solutions. That’s why we’ve become the leader in fresh produce, providing sourcing and supply chain solutions to help our customers grow and manage their complex fresh produce businesses.

If you’re ready to work with Ben, Ryan, or any of our other talented produce professionals, connect with an expert today.

Michael Castagnetto

Michael Castagnetto - Vice President of Global Sourcing

Michael Castagnetto is the Robinson Fresh Vice President of Global Sourcing. He has built and sustained relationships with growers, suppliers and customers with a goal of helping them build, develop and evolve their supply chains. Michael uses his almost 20 years of experience and knowledge to open up global perishable supply chains and continue to build relationships with those in the fresh produce industry. His specialty is complex supply chains with a focus on fresh produce and integration of logistics to drive growth for my customers.
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