Adjust Font Size :

Professor Robert Bull Played
Important Role In PMA History

PMA released a notice today regarding the passing of one of the most seminal figures in the history of PMA:


Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) current and past leaders joined together today to note the passing of Robert L. Bull, an influential force during the association’s early years. Bull died Feb. 26 in Temple, Maine.

A professor of marketing at the University of Delaware, Bull was the land grant university system’s representative to the board of directors of the Produce Prepackaging Association (PPA), a predecessor to PMA, in the late 1950s. Founded in 1949 to respond to competition arising from the new category of frozen food and to help the industry address quality issues, the association and its early annual conventions and expositions attracted a broad cross-section of prepackers. However, PPA nearly floundered in early 1958 when it was discovered that the first executive director had embezzled all the association’s funds as that year’s convention was being planned.

Members appealed to the dean of the University of Delaware’s agriculture school to allow Bull to take over PPA operations in the short term, while association directors developed a plan for the future. Bull moved the association’s meager remaining assets — two old desks with chairs, file cabinets, two Royal typewriters and a mimeograph machine — from New York City to a vacant barber shop in Newark, Del., where he managed the association for several months.

Bull also tapped a University of Delaware graduate student, the son of a local hog farmer and a Korean War veteran, to manage the association. Robert “Bob” Carey presided over the organization until his retirement in 1996. Under Carey’s leadership, as packaging became commonplace in the early 1960s then began to wane as consumer interest in healthy eating increased, PPA evolved — first to focus on produce retailers’ educational needs, which were unserved at that time, then later to the global, produce and floral organization for buyers and sellers that it is today. The association was renamed Produce Packaging and Marketing Association in 1967, and became Produce Marketing Association in 1971.

“I don’t know if there would be an association today if Bob Bull hadn’t stepped in to keep the organization functioning in 1958,” said Carey, who also cited Bull’s early management assistance. “When I was hired, I didn’t even know what an association was — he had much to do with my early on-the-job learning experiences.”

Bull later founded Food Business Associates, Inc., a marketing consultancy. His clients included Binney and Smith, and Johnson & Johnson, his family obituary reports.

“Bob Bull not only kept the association going in its darkest days, but he also helped shed light for those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him through the 1980s,” said current PMA President Bryan Silbermann. “He did pioneering work in produce handling for retailers and wholesalers, authoring one of the earliest guides published by the association on the subject. We owe Bob a huge debt of gratitude for his vision and his commitment to serving others.”

Carey remembered Bull as a pioneering food marketing researcher who studied retail shopping patterns and perishable inventory control, and was an advocate of packaging. He recalled Bull as an avid gardener who grew then-unknown fruits and vegetables including now-popular lemongrass, and as a prolific writer. Bull’s obituary reports that he authored more than 700 manuals, books, and magazine and journal articles on food and marketing, as well as health care and child safety. He earned numerous awards in his lifetime, including for teaching excellence, and for his advocacy for small business and children’s safety.

Bull is survived by four children, Stephen, Fred, Robert and Laura Bull, and their families; and a sister. A memorial service will be held March 8 at Fairbanks Union Church, Fairbanks, Maine. Arrangements are being made by Wiles Funeral Home, Farmington, Maine.

Here at the Pundit we feel especially grateful to Bob Bull. When the Pundit was a young man starting up PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, Bob was a marketing consultant and he persuaded some of his clients to support the venture of a young man he thought had some potential.

Bob Bull had a knack for finding people filled with potential. Although Professor Bull did many things for PMA, none was more consequential than his selection and mentoring of a young Bob Carey to staff what was then a virtually bankrupt and quite inconsequential organization.

In selecting Bob Carey, Professor Bull taught us all one final lesson: That each of us makes many decisions which may seem small at the time but can wind up being of great consequence.

That is a lesson to live a life by. Our condolences to the Bull family.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Latest from Jim Prevor's Perishable Pundit