The Produce Marketing Association and Center for Growing Talent Announce Winners of Awards of Excellence; Industry Members Comment
NEWARK, DE - Writing for a trade news publication, I get the distinct honor of speaking with and interviewing a multitude of people throughout fresh produce, and therefore I can say from first-hand experience that there are amazing people in our industry. Spotlighting just a few of these names during its “Recognizing the Best Part of PMA” Virtual Town Hall, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and Center for Growing Talent (CGT) announced the winners of its Awards of Excellence.
“We have a saying that our association is not only for our members, but by our members, especially our industry volunteers,” said PMA Chief Executive Officer, Cathy Burns. “Collaboration between our boards, committees, taskforces, councils, and our team is fundamental to the work we do. Witnessing our industry’s passion and enthusiasm for produce and floral and channeling our industry’s efforts to grow a healthier world is humbling and inspiring. We are proud to recognize these great leaders, and grateful for their commitment and generosity.”
The PMA and CGT Awards of Excellence recognize the work of industry volunteers across fresh produce who transform, innovate, collaborate, and lead those they encounter toward creating a healthier world, according to a press release.
Receiving this year’s Robert L. Carey Leadership Award, which honors extraordinary efforts in volunteer service to PMA that has helped to improve, advance, and develop the produce industry, is Michael Simonetta Chief Executive Officer of Perfection Fresh Group Australia.
“I receive this with great pride, and it’s certainly a highlight of my career,” said Simonetta. “I look forward to celebrating with all my friends across the produce industry, this great industry we’re all so blessed to be a part of next year, in Orlando.”
He was announced by last year’s recipient Jin Ju Wilder Director of Marketing and Business Development at Vesta Foodservice, who recognized Simonetta’s long legacy of volunteer leadership and service around the globe.
“Having served on the PMA Board of Directors with Michael and becoming friends with him, I have benefitted from his support, his experience, and I’ve been inspired by his energy and the optimism he brings to industry issues,” said Wilder. “PMA and all of us continue to benefit from his excellent leadership skills, his business acumen, his global perspective, and his love of the industry. He believes that together we can grow a healthier world, and it makes him the perfect recipient for this award.”
Taking home the PMA Bryan E. Silberman Collaboration Award was Doug Grant, Retiring Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Oppenheimer Group. This award celebrates an outstanding PMA member who has addressed an industry issue or challenge through collaboration in his or her work to advance the produce and floral industries.
“I view this collaboration award as the capstone on my career in fresh produce,” commented Grant. "Now that I’m recently retired, I will cherish this award for many years to come. It will remind me of all the excellent people I’ve worked with on committees and the accomplishments we’ve all made together.”
He was presented with the award by Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, the Executive Director of Center for Produce Safety who was last year’s honoree. Fernandez-Fenaroli described the extensive partnership and leadership Grant has shown especially in Center for Produce Safety’s work to raise the bar on fresh produce food safety across the supply chain.
“This year’s award winner, Doug Grant, epitomizes the stick-to-itiveness needed to achieve collaboration in an industry as diverse as ours,” she said. “There are leadership styles, and Doug is calm in the storm, intelligent, and mindful. There are also leaders with style and that too, fits Doug.”
Marty Craner, President of B&C Fresh Sales, was the winner of the CGT Frieda Rapoport Caplan Women’s Catalyst Award. The honor recognizes those in the industry who have played a key role in supporting, mentoring, and advancing women in the produce and floral industries.
“As a legacy to Frieda, I encourage all of us to reach out to others—to support, connect, and mentor, as Freida did for so many of us as well,” she said in her acceptance speech.
She was given the award by last year’s winner, Kristen Reid, Executive Vice President of MIXTEC, who praised the honoree for her contributions to the industry.
“She has truly set the standard for what it means to be a female leader in the produce industry,” said Reid. “A nominator described her as a ‘volunteer leader powerhouse.’ She has served on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee for PMA, she has chaired the Board of Directors for the Fresh Produce Council, and is current Chair of the Center for Growing Talent. She was recognized not just for the broad impact she has had on the industry through her volunteer roles but for the profound impact she has had on individuals in the industry.”
Next up on the list of industry awardees was Jill Overdorf of Naturipe Farms who received the CGT Jay Pack: Cultivating Our Future Award. Overdorf was chosen for being a dedicated industry volunteer, sharing her passion and insights on the produce industry to have a major impact on the attracting of talent.
Upon accepting the award, Overdorf recognized past winners including Rich Dachman and Dan’l Mackey Almy and reflected on what it’s like to give back to the industry, especially with the students through the Career Pathways Program.
“When I started in this industry over 15 years ago, I had nothing but time and energy,” Overdorf explained. “I am grateful to Naturipe and Cooseman’s Shipping, my former employer, who allowed me the latitude to contribute what I had. That time and energy has paid forward to the students who I love and adore and stay in touch with now.”
She was presented with the award by none other than Dan’l Mackey Almy, who earned the recognition last year.
“I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of this award,” said DMA’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Watching you intentionally show up for others in the industry, whether it is someone new to the industry or someone well-established, you show up and generously give your ideas and thoughts. You work to connect people so they can achieve as much success as possible.”
Earning PMA’s 2021 Impact Award was DNO. Earlier this year, in honor of the United Nations naming 2021 the Year of Fruit and Vegetables, PMA issued a challenge to the industry to make an impact on their communities by helping bring fresh produce to those who are underserved. Taking this challenge head on, DNO went above and beyond.
“Jeremy Taylor, Vice President of Sales at DNO rallied his colleagues to eliminate lunch school debt for high school students at Hamilton local schools for the 2020 school year,” explained PMA’s Chief Science Officer, Max Teplitski. “They raised funds to clear all high school lunch debt and carry a remainder into the Fall of 2020.”
Alex DiNovo, DNO President, accepted the award, explaining that his company has worked closely with schools to provide ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables.
“Many children around the country who don’t qualify for fresh meals owe school lunch debt that’s accrued through their inability to pay for them,” DiNovo said. “It bothered us so much that one of our associates, Jeremy Taylor, decided to make a difference and pay off a local high school debt from where he graduated. These are the types of actions that make us better as a company and as an industry.”
Taking home the Science and Technology Circle of Excellence Award was Verdant Robotics, recognized for its innovation in science and technology to solve an industry challenge. Through its solution, the company provides growers with the ability to digitally map their entire farm and track all aspects of the growth of their products at scale.
Gabe Sibley, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Verdant Robotics, along with fellow Founder and Chief Operating Officer Curtis Garner, accepted the award on behalf of their company.
“Each cubic centimeter of the farm can be tracked and monitored to guide the outcome of what’s grown,” elaborated Sibley. “Imagine tracking an apple blossom from bud to harvest.”
Last, but most certainly not least, rounding out the list of winners were the Retail Merchants of the Year. Sponsored by Sage Fruit, this year’ winners include:
- 1–10 Store Count: Dino Medica, Produce Coordinator, Metropolitan Market
- 11–49 Store Count: Jeff Fairchild, Director of Produce, New Seasons Market
- 50–199 Store Count: Mike Roberts, Produce Director, Harps Food Stores
- 200–399 Store Count: Brian McKnight, Merchandising Manager, Kroger Company - Houston
- 400+ Store Count: Steven Williams, VP Produce and Floral, Southeastern Grocers
“Without the success of these different merchants building exciting displays out in the stores, our growers would not be as successful as we are,” said Sage Fruit President of Sales and Marketing, Chuck Sinks. “We couldn’t be more excited to announce these winners, congratulations to each of you!”
To watch the Virtual Town Hall and hear from the award winners, click here.
Congratulations to these amazing fresh produce names that continue to drive our industry forward!