People in Produce: Meet the Robinson Fresh Employees on the 2017 Produce Business 40 Under Forty List

People in Produce: Meet the Robinson Fresh Employees on the 2017 Produce Business 40 Under Forty List

Each year, Produce Business recognizes the produce industry’s top young leaders in their 40 Under 40 project. Honorees are selected for their professional accomplishments, their demonstrated leadership, and their contributions to the industry and their communities.

Five Robinson Fresh employees are included on the 2017 list, and I couldn’t be more proud of these produce experts. Our company prides itself on hiring the best of the best, and this recognition is a testament to their commitment to excellence in their work, their relationships with customers and others they interact with every day, and to our industry.

Read through these excerpts from their Q&A with Produce Business—along with a fun bonus question from our team—and I think you’ll see why these Robinson Fresh employees are so deserving of this honor.

Steve Gabrick, Sales Group Manager

Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?

A. This may sound very cliché, but patience is a virtue. As a young kid coming into the industry, I wanted to tackle everything all at once, which taught me quickly how important time management and organization skills are throughout your career—you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time. Additionally, you’ll experience many gratifying highs, and, likely even more, not so gratifying lows. Maintain composure, learn from every experience, and continually focus on improving yourself, your business, and the industry.

Q. How has the industry changed during your tenure?

A. In the 14 years I’ve been in the industry, the most consistent word I’ve heard and experienced is “change.” The produce supply chain continues to evolve and increase in complexity. Products are grown in areas that haven’t been traditional growing regions in the past, and there are new channels through which produce is sold. While product innovation and technology advancements are a great thing for everyone, including the consumer, the products and varieties on the shelf, along with their corresponding supply chains, are ever-changing.

Robinson Fresh Q. If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be? Why?

A. I would be a lime. Limes enjoy tropical climates, are a versatile commodity as an ingredient across many foods and beverages, and they seem to enjoy the social scene—all are areas I like associating with.

Tim Krech, Strategic Account Manager

Q. What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of in your career?

A. I take pride in the relationships I have built within the industry and with my teammates. I love to innovate and try new things. Those types of projects require working with a team you trust to share your vision and work hard to achieve common goals. We’ve had some big wins and some stormy losses, but the support of our team keeps me excited.

Q. What are the next big trends on the horizon?

A. Technological trends are big in many industries, including ours. Full-service home delivery services, robotics in the field, drones in the skies, driverless trucks on the road, locally grown hydroponics, and mass consolidation of multi-generational growers, shippers, packers, brokers, retailers, and restaurant chains are all big trends that could happen in the very near future—some of which we see happening already. People are also becoming more focused on eating cleaner and healthier. They pay more attention to recalls and where their food is coming from. Our industry has been, and will continue to be, constantly evolving and improving our quality and food safety.

Robinson Fresh Q. In your opinion, which fruit or veggie does not have the street cred it deserves? Why?

A. I think potatoes don’t get enough street credit. They can be grilled, salted, fried, baked, mashed, and processed, and they come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors. Also, they have common phrases associated with them, like “lazy sack of potatoes,” “hot potato,” and “potato, patato.” Lastly, they can perfectly complement any meal while also being able to own the center of the plate.

Jon Maruk, Strategic Account Manager

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

A. Don’t hesitate to challenge the norm because the norm is constantly changing. At the same time, build as many relationships as you can, seek out mentorships, and spend time learning from others.

Q. What are the next big trends on the horizon?

A. The rise of urbanization. In the early 20th century, 900 million people lived in urban areas, whereas today, 3.5 billion live in urban areas. According to the United Nations, this figure could reach 7 billion by 2050. So, obviously, all sorts of new solutions must be developed to meet needs. The continued rise of big data, digital, technology, and the internet will continue to dramatically impact the way consumers purchase produce. The rise of greater transparency, sustainability, and social responsibility will also continue as trends. Faster and more efficient global supply chains could alter where produce comes from or where it’s ultimately consumed. All of these trends create challenge and change, and it’s why we need to continue to innovate as an industry at a rapid rate.

Robinson Fresh Q. You just shipwrecked on a deserted island. Which fruit or veggie do you pine for?

A. On a deserted island, I’d pine for MelonUp® Pink Ribbon Watermelon! Great taste; great way to get hydrated and stay healthy while supporting a great cause!

Zachary Raab, Customer Group Manager

Q. What industry improvements would you like to see?

A. I feel there is a large lack of appreciation for what it takes to get fresh produce to homes all around the world. Here in the United States, there is little understanding of the aptitude and dedication necessary to harvest and transport high-quality, fresh produce to consumers. I’d love to see our education system expose children to our industry earlier in the schooling process. There is a need for an influx of passionate youth to continue driving innovation and delivery of high-quality products.

Q. What has shocked or surprised you about the produce industry?

A. The effects of one region of the world’s weather to the supply chain and getting it to end users at an affordable price and consistent quality. The lack of exposure our youth, especially those not from agriculturally heavy states, have to the produce industry. The lack of the general population’s understanding of the complexities of the industry and the regulations in place to make sure it is safely grown, harvested, and transported for consumption.

Robinson Fresh Q. In your opinion, which fruit or veggie does not have the street cred it deserves? Why?

A. I strongly believe Brussels sprouts do not get the street cred they deserve. I can knowingly say this because I never ate one until I joined the industry six years back. Previously, the only things I heard about Brussels sprouts were horror stories about their flavor, texture, and preparation. But after eating them once, I was hooked. Brussels sprouts are nutritious, delicious, and extremely versatile. You can use them for add-ons or substitutes for existing green vegetable recipes, and you can enjoy them raw, roasted, grilled, or steamed. They can be used in the summer just as much as they can in the winter. #EatMoreBrussels

John Stenderup, Manager, Western Growers Transportation Program

Q. What are the next big trends on the horizon?

A. From a supply chain standpoint, speed-to-market, decreasing order sizes, and traceability will be trends that deserve the most attention. Technology will be critical in overcoming the challenges these trends create. Customers who purchase produce continue to seek produce that can be delivered on-demand and in quantities that ensure freshness and safety. With the large investments being made to make online produce sales a reality, our industry will need to be able to better manage inventory and deliver on a just-in-time basis. To do so, our industry will need to leverage the efficiencies of technology to track their product from farm to fork. This will also help ensure traceability, which will continue to be a hot topic for years to come.

Q. What advice would you give someone new to the produce industry

A. Understand that our industry is different than most. It is driven by relationships, and you are only a few contacts away from knowing everyone. Embrace this quality and develop a passion for it. If you want to be successful in the produce industry, you will need to understand that relationships are paramount and you should look to drive change benefiting others before yourself.

Robinson Fresh Q. If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be? Why?

A. I’ve actually pondered this quite often in my younger years, and the vegetable that I settled on is the artichoke. The artichoke, a flowering thistle, begins as a small bud and eventually grows layers of protective leaves, which shield its heart. It takes a lot of work to peel back the leaves to get to the heart—but once you do, it is well worth the effort.

Are you ready to work with a great team—like the 40 Under Forty recipients you got to know in this post—to grow your fresh produce program? Connect with one of our experts.

Jim Lemke

Jim Lemke - President, Robinson Fresh

Jim was named president of Robinson Fresh in January 2015. Prior to that, he served as senior vice president from December 2007 to December 2014, having served as vice president, sourcing since 2003. Prior to that time, he served as the vice president and manager of C.H. Robinson's Corporate Procurement and Distribution Services branch. Jim joined the company in 1989. Jim holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Minnesota. Jim also serves on the Foundation Board of the United Fresh Produce Association. He also serves as a director for the Children’s Theatre Company.

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