Vic Smith, Kevin Doran, Peter O’Driscoll, and More Discuss EFI: Equitable Food Initiative
WASHINGTON, DC - Our industry is changing not just in its products and technologies, but in the people that continue to help move it forward. As the fresh produce business continues to evaluate how it can better move into the future, there is a key place that often remains almost the same as it always has been—the field.
“We hope that the conversation in the industry begins segueing to how a serious workforce development program can improve the industry overall in terms of productivity, quality, and creating a seamless transition through the supply chain, as well as address food safety and labor issues—both scarcity and conditions,” Peter O’Driscoll, Executive Director of EFI, recently shared with me on the team’s certification program.
EFI is currently contracted with 20 produce companies that are introducing workforce development and have achieved, or are working toward, EFI certification.
“Our employees were thirsting for an opportunity to provide feedback. We had feedback channels in place, but the level of engagement from our staff increased dramatically after we implemented the fundamentally bilateral structure that EFI brings with the Leadership Teams,” Kevin Doran, President & CEO of Houweling's Tomatoes, shared on the program. “The staff feel more empowered, more engaged in our business, and that their voices matter. This has led to a tremendous amount of improvements in our business based on their feedback on simple things but that wouldn’t have been obvious to us unless they brought them forward.”
JV Smith Companies, too, has pursued the new method to boost its employee culture in the field.
“EFI is about workforce development and empowering employees and engaging them in the work process. I’ve always believed in that strategy and appreciate EFI’s ability to help us bring it to new levels,” Vic Smith, President and CEO of JV Smith Companies, commented. “We have an acute labor shortage and a marketplace that is becoming more sophisticated and demanding transparency. The EFI program is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart business strategy since it helps you engage your workforce and drive productivity.”
EFI, as Doran put it, is fundamentally different from other audit programs in that there is a mechanism in place to ensure that things are happening properly in between audits.
“The EFI model empowers the staff to keep the business honest to the set of criteria that we agreed to execute on,” Doran continued. “It’s nice to have a third party validate the good things that we are doing as a company and make recommendations on where you can improve.”
Shawn Hartley, Owner and Vice President of Onions52, said that EFI’s certification program has helped the team maximize efficiencies in all program and work areas.
“The EFI model gave workers a voice and a way to share their ideas and helped us work together to implement improvements, taking an efficient operation and making it even better. In a time of labor shortage, listening to and engaging your workforce gives you a competitive edge. We implemented EFI because we wanted to empower our workers, increase job satisfaction, provide growth opportunities and keep them with us for many years,” he said.
All involved report an opportunity to maximize transparency at a time it is needed most, providing everyone from those in the field and offices, to the buyers, and the end consumer with food safety assurance.
“Social responsibility is more than a return on investment, but we have had good outcomes. We have the best and most productive associates in the industry. We have associates who are committed to the quality of our product and to our high food safety standards. It is easy to attract and retain our associates, which means we aren’t spending an inordinate amount of time on recruitment or training. Having a stable, well-trained workforce makes us a stable company and produces the best-tasting tomatoes,” Kathryn Ault, Vice President of Customer Solutions at NatureSweet, concluded.
Connect with the EFI team at https://equitablefood.org to find out how your company might tap into this new resource for a work culture that doubles down on food safety by enhancing work culture on the farm and beyond.