I’ve been involved in the fresh fruit and vegetable business a little over 30 years. I’m Canadian, but I’ve lived in the States almost 20 years. My first foray in produce was at Sunkist Growers in Canada and the U.S., where I stayed for 14 years, primarily concentrating on the domestic side of the business.
Throughout my career, I’ve had tremendous opportunities and been coached by some phenomenal people. That’s why I’m so passionate about the industry today. At Sunkist I was surrounded by many influential people, so it’s difficult to single out a few. Sticking with management, definitely Russ Hanlin, David Bernstein and Mark Tompkins.
I then worked at Frieda’s back in 1990, and while I wasn’t there for a long time, it provided an opportunity to view strategic marketing done by the best in the business. Frieda, Jackie and Karen Caplan at Frieda’s were truly inspirational to me. The quality of experience speaks more than the quantity of experience, and we remain business contacts and personal friends.
Interestingly, Frieda’s did a bunch of work in New Zealand, and was the first to import kiwifruit to the United States. It’s serendipity that all these years later, I find myself in New Zealand as General Manager of Enza. And my last job before joining Enza was at BC Hothouse, where Frieda’s had a working relationship that carried over the years.
That’s what is great about this business. If there are six degrees of separation between people in general, then in the produce industry it is about 2 degrees.
Up to this point in my career at Sunkist and Frieda’s, I had a lot of exposure in the North American marketplace. Then I had the chance to really get to know the international business through Robert Autenrieth when I joined his family fresh fruit export company, The Autenrieth Co., started by his father in Los Angeles, California. The primary focus was the Pacific Rim and some business in Europe and New Zealand. Particularly because it was a smaller company, it was very hands on. I went out to the field and the pack house, was involved in the sales and transportation side, and really got to appreciate the complexity of the business as well. Robert and I are in touch probably on a weekly basis.
I then had the opportunity to go back to the Pacific Northwest, where I worked for Vanguard International. My areas of focus were on fruit and vegetable import and export trading with Korea, Japan and within the North American marketplace.
After that, in 2001, I romanced back to my citrus roots, becoming president of the Central California Orange Growers Cooperative. We represented roughly 28 percent of citrus production in California.
And then I was recruited back up to Vancouver to BC Hothouse Dave Smith, a gentlemen I’d known 20 years when he was president and CEO of BC Hothouse. Vancouver was where my family lives, and I was excited to get into the greenhouse side of the business. It was at a time when the industry was going through turmoil, starting to deregulate, and facing all the challenges that go along with that. I worked at BC Hothouse four years before joining Enza.
While it may not be easy, there is always great opportunity to succeed when the industry goes though tumultuous change. We won’t stop this cycle in an industry dealing in perishable products, where everything doesn’t come in nice neat bundles. Mother Nature has a way of wreaking havoc. I joke occasionally that there’s another woman that causes more excitement than me!
Dawn went on to work as the Senior Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Categories for The Oppenheimer Group and, eventually, struck out on her own and opened a consultancy.
We heard that in Dawn’s work, she was increasingly wrestling with the question of how in an age of global trade, producers and marketers could relate to the trending interest in where one’s food comes from.
We were thus thrilled when Dawn accepted our invitation to address The Global Trade Symposium at The New York Produce Show and Conference and proposed this title for her talk: A Local Age in A Global World: How Technology and Marketing Can Help Global Players Establish a Direct Consumer Connection Around the World.
We wanted a sneak preview of what Dawn would be presenting and asked Jodean Robbins Duarte one of our senior contributing editors at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more:
Dawn E. Gray
Dawn Gray Global Consulting
Vancouver, BC Canada
Q: Now that you have your own business, what kind of work do you do?
A: I am a produce industry expert and consultant specializing in organizational leadership and business development with an emphasis on operations, grower relations, sales and marketing. I’ve helped companiesincrease sales, reduce market-based costs and overhead costs and create operational savings.
Like most things in business, my role is evolving. Particularly within the supply chain in the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, the needs are different for different players. So in some cases, my work is more about change management; in others, it’s the more traditional marketing, branding, and product launch expertise.
Q: How did you wind up in the produce business?
A: I started working for Sunkist and became addicted to the business. I’ve always said produce isn’t a career; it’s a disease, and once you get it — it’s fatal. It attracts a high energy, very passionate person and that has always appealed to me.
Over the past 36 years, I’ve worked for some of the top organizations in the world, including The Oppenheimer Group, Turners and Growers, Enza International, BC Hot House Foods Inc., Vanguard International and Sunkist Growers Inc.
Q: What made you decide to take the big leap to launching your own business?
A: The launch of my consulting business was fortuitous. It was brought on by others whom I respect in the industry. It was pointed out to me that my international experience and breadth of different disciplines was very unique and would allow me to add value to the people and organizations I would come to work with. Adding value to those I work with is of utmost importance to me.
Q: What are some of the main challenges you’ve been confronted with over the years?
A: There’s been a lot of consolidation on the buy-side. As an industry, we’ve talked about consolidation on the supply side, but it’s happening incrementally there. So the result is a big challenge as big, big retailers need volume and want promotional contributions to support them.
There are increasing expectations that fresh produce should be able to contribute and behave the same way as the center-aisle guys. How do we as an industry pull those things together when you have literally hundreds of thousands of growers trying to sell?
It’s the entrepreneurial spirit of the grower that makes this business so fantastic, but how do you connect that with the needs of these large retailers? This is not only a challenge but a great opportunity.
Q: What is a key influence right now in business?
A: To stay competitive, you need to be on top of changes and ensure you’re relevant to customers. Companies are looking more and more at what they must do to stay on top of change and trends and stay relevant. And they’re realizing they don’t need to have that expertise on staff but can outsource – indeed, in many cases they have no alternative but to outsource.
Q: Can you give us a little sneak preview of what will you be talking about in New York?
A: My presentation focuses on connecting the entire supply chain. It’s about how we connect grower, wholesaler, distributor, retailer and consumer. For many years, the concept of building a consumer brand in produce has been extremely challenging. There have been only a handful of companies recognized as hitting that mark.
However, there are some very powerful tools available today that have not been available in the past. We also have a more demanding and curious consumer than in the past. The question is whether we can convert consumers at point-of-purchase.
When you look at the reasons behind local produce purchases, it shows that, “unaided,” very few people will purchase local over other choices. However with “aid,” almost everyone will.
For the consumer, it’s not necessarily all about a local label; it’s more about who you are (i.e., who the growers are, where did they come from, how do they grow, etc.). So the question becomes how do we make that happen at the point of purchase?
One of the greatest challenges of bolstering consumption is connecting all those dots to know how we come to have a more direct influence for all the stakeholders in the supply chain.
Q: What can participants expect to walk away with?
A: My hope is that participants will walk away with a more clearly articulated statement of the challenge and the opportunity. They’ll be able to see ways to embrace that opportunity and tools to use within their own business to achieve those goals.
Whether it is growers connecting to buyers or retailers being able to merchandise more effectively, my goal is for everyone to truly begin to see each other as partners and not enemies.
In a way, we can explore whether we’re moving back to the future, as in my parents’ era, when there were small family-owned grocery stores or green grocers. Are we going back to that, but in a new way? As the consumer tries to juggle his or her requirements, there is a desire for someone to help him/her — to be the subject matter expert. It’s how they will receive that help that creates such a plethora of opportunity.
Q: You raise incredibly intriguing questions. Is there one particular group within the industry that you are addressing by posing these questions ?
A: I believe it will create an opportunity for valuable conversation. I am a big believer in defining what we’re trying to solve, identifying the opportunity and looking at how we collectively, as a team along the supply chain, run at the problem as opposed to running to another player along the chain to have them solve it. There is a lot of strength in unity, and we are going to strategize about how to create that united supply chain and how to make it a tool to accomplish great things in your business.
Who can ask for more? To take a global production base and find a local message is no small matter. It is achievable though. Partly it is because the Internet and social media have changed the nature of brand-building and communication, partly because catch phrases such as “local” rarely mean to consumers what they literally mean. This is where authenticity and locale enter the fray.
This instructive seminar is being held on December 4, 2012, as part of the Global Trade Symposium at The New York Produce Show and Conference.
Dawn is jetting in on the Cathay Pacific non-stop from Vancouver. Wherever you are coming from, however you are going to get there, make sure you have a seat at Dawn’s presentation.
To register for The Global Trade Symposium and the entire New York Produce Show and Conference, click here.
If you have already registered for the show and just want to add the Global Trade Symposium, let us know here.
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Hotel info is right here.
And you can sign up for one of the tours here.
Bring a spouse or companion for some added fun while in New York by clicking here.
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Looking forward to seeing you in New York City!