Snack Feature: Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos of D'Arrigo Bros
Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos, Sales Specialist for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, has been featured in the latest edition of AndNowUKnow’s print publication, The Snack Magazine. As a commodity manager for Nopalitos and Cactus Pears, Claudia talks life, prickly pears and everything in between.
Check out The Snack article by clicking here, or read the full text below:
Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos: Secret Sweet Gem
"Be yourself, share your talents as a volunteer or mentor, and make time for yourself and your family," Claudia Pizarro-Villalobos tells me.
Born in Salinas, California, this former Cal Berkeley point guard is a jack of all trades. The youngest of three siblings, she received her B.A. from UC Berkeley and her M.A. from Harvard before returning to Salinas to work for Hartnell College as the Director of the AmeriCorps/America Reads Program. After working three years at Hartnell, she moved to Cambridge and graduated from Harvard’s 9 month intensive Master’s program.
Claudia’s positive outlook, drive, and ambition have taken her across the country and the ocean. “I climbed Villarrica Volcano – an active volcano in Pucon, Chile (it’s one of only five volcanoes in the world known to have an active lava lake within its crater) as an international student at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago, during my junior year away from CAL,” she tells me.
Currently working for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California as a Sales Specialist, she is a commodity manager for Nopalitos and Cactus Pears. This shining star actively participates in the Salinas Rotary Club Member/Board of Directors, YMCA Board of Directors, HELP Board of Directors (Healthy Eating Lifestyle Principles), California Women in Ag Member/Progressive Dinner Co-Chair, and IMPOWER Board of Directors (Inspire, Motivate, Prepare, and Organize Women to Engage and Reinvest).
Claudia resides in Salinas and is married to Mathew Villalobos, VP of Coast Automotive Warehouse, and they have a 20 month old son, Dylan Mateo. If you are looking for a pick-up game in Salinas, just give Claudia a call. She’s always down.
Who has influenced your career and personal growth?
Margaret D'Arrigo-Martin. There are some relationships that really build a person. She saw my potential. We were in the rotary together and Margaret spearheaded the board. I was just getting my bearings and she brought me into the fold. Margaret brings energy to the table and really leads each movement or commitment she gets behind. With Margaret, everyone gets involved. She has been such a leader and I only hope to be able to give back in the ways that she has for our community and industry.
Are you really a Prickly Pear a.k.a Cactus Pear?
Ha. Well, I definitely have a tough skin, but I am sweet on the inside. It does you well to be colorful and unique, but more than anything I am persistent and resilient. So, in a way yes, I am a prickly pear.
What is your greatest regret?
President Bill Clinton stopped into our family restaurant Chapala, and it was literally the only day I wasn’t there! My mother called me and told me the President was in the area and stopped in for lunch. I didn’t believe her. The next day she had the newspaper clippings to prove it.
Chapala was a mainstay in Salinas for 25 years. When my parents came to the U.S. from Northern Mexico they had no education and spoke no English. My father worked at the Spreckels Sugar Refinery and my mother worked in the fields before they opened Chapala. I learned how much hard work, hope, and determination can pay off.
What goes into marketing and merchandising Cactus Pears?
The biggest challenge I face is in educating the retailer and the consumer about the versatility and possibilities of fruits and vegetables. Many people simply don’t even know how to cut a cactus pear, which means preparing it is out of the question. By educating each point person between myself, the retailer, and the consumer, Cactus Pears as a specialty item can become more mainstream. You can use them in jams, sorbets, ice cream, smoothies, sushi, purees, cocktails…but, people don’t even know how it tastes. Prickly pears come in five colors, ranging from purple to green-orange, blood red, and magenta. It’s a vibrant and wonderful product to keep stocked on the produce shelf with the right marketing tips. The flavor is incredible and plays between watermelon and kiwi.
What can retailers do to take Cactus Pears to the next level?
I have seen great success with retailers who conduct food tastings and demos for shoppers. While the appearance itself can entice the consumer to ask questions, your best bet is to beat them to it. Demo the item fresh-cut in store with yogurt and granola. It’s a great opportunity for yogurt companies and ice cream companies to partner with a unique item that could be the next pomegranate. It’s our secret sweet gem!
D’Arrigo is the largest commercial grower in the U.S. and as more consumers look to buy produce based on origin, we hope that retailers will realize that we have a marketing program that is in their backyard. California grown. Food safety and Kosher certified.
Over the years, we’ve combined the best fruit characteristics of cactus pears, also known as prickly pears, through controlled hybridization to cultivate the sweetest and most flavorful cactus pears. Ours are ripe, ready to eat, de-thorned, and exclusively grown in the Salinas Valley, California. We offer an exclusive signature series, 4 of which are hybrid offerings. In addition, Andy Boy Cactus Pears undergo a unique cleaning process that removes a vast majority of the plant’s tiny prickers. The result is a smooth, safe surface. No sticks or slivers. So it’s easier to enjoy the delicious and healthy fruit of the cactus.
The Monterey Health Consortium was an important time in your personal growth, tell us about it.
I’ve always enjoyed grass roots endeavors and at the time I wanted to give back to the community and at the same time work for myself. In 2002, I was working in Washington D.C. for Congressman Xavier Becerra (LA). I took the opportunities I had working alongside constituents and public officials to find out about the politics of creating a non-profit organization. And let me tell you, they don’t make it easy.
I asked myself, what was important to me? My parents were farm workers; education and health policies were top of mind and I wanted to be my own boss.
After asking around in Monterey and finding out that much of the smoking cessation funds were being misappropriated, I decided to try and funnel the support toward creating a nonprofit. The Monterey Health Consortium was created to assist low-income farm workers with health education and benefits. The stint was short and sweet, but one of the most important things I have ever done.
…As the specialty produce category continues to grow, Claudia tells me that the company plans on expanding its produce offerings to address the evolving demographics in the U.S. and abroad. Cactus Pears, the new pomegranate? I’ll bite.