Commitment, innovation, service: Hallmarks of IFPA Produce Manager Award Winners

Newark, DE. and Washington, D.C. – For their commitment to fresh produce, innovative merchandising, community service, and customer satisfaction, 15 produce managers have been recognized by the 2023 Retail Produce Managers Award Program from the International Fresh Produce Association. 

“The produce industry’s front line – produce managers – make a difference every day for their companies and their communities. I’m thrilled to name 15 produce managers who stand out from the crowd,” said Joe Watson, IFPA vice president of retail, foodservice, and wholesale membership. 

“IFPA is committed to advancing member prosperity and a healthier world,” he said. “Awards that recognize the best of the best not only reward stellar performers, they also inspire others to up their game. We are especially thankful to the award sponsor, Dole, which is equally committed to recognizing excellence.” 

These 15 winners represent the produce industry to the consumer and work to increase sales and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables for their banners and their communities. Following each winner’s name is just one of the many reasons their peers nominated them for this prestigious award.  

Patrick O’Brien of Albertsons Companies, Denver, Colorado

Creativity, coaching, and training  

Patrick creates displays that look great and simply shout to the customer Buy Me. To drive sales, Patrick coaches and trains his people on these same standards and customer service.   

Brandon Hash of Brookshire Grocery Co., Willow Park, Texas

Profits and minimizing shrink 

Brandon is producing double-digit increases, which are reflected in his profits. He is known for his excellent fresh item management skills that minimize waste and shrink in his department. 

Laura J. Marquand of Haggen Northwest Fresh, Ferndale, Washington

Relationships rule  

Laura has an acute understanding of the power of relationships with her customers and suppliers as well. These relationships allow her to better feed her neighborhood and build sales.    

Jenn Lane of Harris Teeter, Cornelius, North Carolina

Holiday merchandising 

Over the last year Jenn has had a sales increase of 11.58% over the previous year, additionally outpacing her budget by 13.44%. For Valentines Day 2023 she outpaced 42 stores within the southern region that do above her weekly average sales by volume.   

Greg Kimmel of Hy-Vee, Inc., Davenport, Iowa

Shopper-stopping artistry 

Greg wants customers to stop in their tracks and do a double take. Color is everything. As an artist, he blends colors and adds extra touches to create an unforgettable masterpiece within his produce department. 

Skylar Leonard of K-VA-T Food Stores, Inc./dba Food City, Piney Flats, Tennessee

Local love 

Skylar supports local farmers by having a specific section in his department dedicated to locally grown produce, in addition to informative signage about the farmers and their farms. He uses social media, radio, and store announcements to promote farm fresh, direct store deliveries.  

Darron Hyatt of Lowes Foods, Southern Pines, North Carolina

Displays – full, fresh, and clean 

Darron and his team have been recognized by their guests as the premier for fresh fruits, vegetables, and floral within Southern Pines. Quality and freshness are his goals.   

Timothy F. Baker of Orcas Island Market, Eastsound, Washington

Feed the pigs  

Tim and team keep hundreds of thousands of pounds of waste out of the landfill.  He and the store’s environmental team launched a program to provide food scraps to feed livestock — a huge hit for the local pig farmers (and the pigs)!   

Gary Lasalle of Price Chopper/Market 32 Supermarket, New Hartford, New York

Starting kids off right 

As a community leader, Gary offers school tours to teach kids about produce through a fun experience (including samples and games). Every kid takes home fruits and vegetables they chose themselves. 

Olin Williams of Corner Market, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Trickle-down knowledge and training 

Olin’s produce knowledge has helped him advance quickly. He is teaching the next generation of produce managers how to be successful in produce. His trainees take the skills they learn from Olin to teach their own teams. 

Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce Market, Portland, Oregon

Great Apple Taste Test 

In the Great Apple Taste Test, Josh chose six out-of-the-ordinary varieties for a blind taste test with students. They scored the apples based on attributes Josh taught them about like taste, crunch, density, ability to display, and others. Then teachers turned this fun activity into math and health teaching opportunities.   

Mark Bentley of Southeastern Grocers, St. Johns, Florida

Delight is in the details

Mark is well-known for his attention to detail and sharp produce merchandising abilities. Working at produce rebranding or remodeling activities, he implements the latest and greatest department layouts. 

Mitch Harris of Strack & Van Til, Valparaiso, Indiana

The trusted source 

Mitch is always looking for the best tasting produce, either unique or everyday items. He has developed a following of customers who know and trust that “if Mitch says it’s good, then it’s probably great.” 

Breanna Norris of The GIANT Company, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Storytelling to drive sales 

Breanna is strategic and thoughtful. Her creativity elevates displays, particularly amplifying special events, holidays, and promotions to tell the stories of our brand and supplier partners while driving sales.  

Christopher DeMarie of Tops Markets, Dunkirk, New York

Merchandising reinvention spurs success 

Christopher reinvented Hispanic offerings as that demographic showed promise at his location. Using an innovative fixture and refreshing the item mix and merchandising, this category has grown to staggering heights and his reinvention has been implemented at sister stores. 

The winners receive: 

  • A recognition visit with each winner at their store. 
  • A trip to IFPA’s Global Produce & Floral Show, October 19-21 in Anaheim, CA, where they will be recognized at a special dinner.  
  • Additional recognition on social, trade, and their local media. 

The IFPA awards program solicits nominations from anyone in the industry who knows a produce manager who is raising the bar on performance. Find more information at:    

About the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA) 

The International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA)is the largest and most diverse international association serving the entire fresh produce and floral supply chain and the only to seamlessly integrate world-facing advocacy and industry-facing support. We exist to bring the industry together to create a vibrant future for all. We grow our member’s prosperity by conducting advocacy; connecting people and ideas; and offering guidance that allows us all totake actionwith purpose and confidence. While IFPA is built on the legacy of United Fresh and Produce Marketing Association, it is not just a combination. It is transformational. Recognizing the industry required an even more powerful and unified voice, the leaders of the former United Fresh and Produce Marketing Association chose not to merge, but rather to create an entirely new organization to supersede their organizations, effective January 1, 2022.