“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”
— John Maynard Keynes
The famed British economist was referring to captains of industry, though the sentiment applies equally well to politicians and others. The quote also speaks to the fact that very often the people we honor for achievement would not have scored those achievements had they not fallen under the influence of another.
The death of Chandler Copps earlier this year brings this to mind, for history should show that Chandler Copps was among the most influential people in the produce industry in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. His influence will survive him for decades to come.
Yet history may cheat Chandler Copps of his rightful place. Yes, he was a scion of a well known retailing family and yes, he had the top volunteer position at what was then known as the Produce Packaging Association, which partially through Chandler’s efforts, evolved into the Produce Packaging and Marketing Association and, ultimately the Produce Marketing Association. Each change was a nudge closer to Chandler’s steadfast belief that the consumer should be at the heart of all produce industry efforts.
Famously, Chandler, at the request of the old Supermarket Institute, predecessor to the Food Marketing Institute, partnered with Leon Miller of A. Duda & Sons to make an unusual presentation in which Miller became the “retailer” while Copps became the “grower-shipper.” The presentation kicked off a ”produce buyers school” that was presented at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, and was informed by a two-week trip in which Chandler taught Leon retailing, while Leon taught Chandler the production side of agriculture. Chandler always saw that trip as mind-opening and, for Chandler, it established that communication up and down the supply chain was absolutely crucial to industry success.
Yet, for all the importance of his family and association work, Chandler’s greatest influence was from his establishing and conducting share groups around the industry, especially retail share groups.
Chandler was knowledgeable, but the groups were not about him teaching. The groups were about learning from one another. So his great contribution to the trade was made through others; it was not his accomplishments in retailing, nor his ideas of how things should be done in produce that ultimately mattered. What mattered was that he knew how to create an environment where people felt safe and valued and so would contribute.
It was an exceptional talent, and many individuals have benefited from his work; and these individuals have changed their companies and the industry.
We could speak of Chandler Copps for a long time. But, instead, let us listen to some of the individuals Chandler touched:
I was the new member in a group of peers that had spent many years meeting, learning and fostering a lasting friendship with Chandler.
My impressions of Chandler Copps: He was unassuming, humble, open-minded, willing to share and rather than simply offering answers and solutions, he would steer us in the direction of self-discovery in our questions and efforts toward our common goals.
— Randy Bohaty
B&R Food Stores
Chandler was a master at understanding each one of us, he new our strengths and our weaknesses. He was a great mentor to all and each one of us is a better professional and, more important, a better person for knowing him. He touched us all and he will be missed.
— Greg Calistro
Director Of Produce & Floral
As facilitator of the RPMN Produce Share Group, Chandler was instrumental in providing a comprehensive and objective view of the produce industry and was instrumental in my development as a produce director.
Chandler provided focus for the group and was proficient in the manner in which he welcomed opposing views and welcomed input from a diverse group of individuals and retail companies. He was a professional in everything he did, and his warmth and friendship in interacting with share group members will always be remembered and cherished.
— Steve Duello
It has been a great honor and privilege to have been a member of Chandler’s RPMN share group, with the most elite group of retailers from around the country. I have been a member of the produce share group since 2000, and at my first meeting, Chandler made me feel like I had always been a part of the group.
Since Chandler had a big connection to Michigan, having attended Michigan State, and I being a member from Michigan, we always had great conversations, often talking about events in Michigan, whether good or bad.
The thing I found out about Chandler was that he made everyone feel important, and he was a great listener.
I have been in the produce industry all my life, and Chandler was the most knowledgeable person I have ever met in this business. He drove all of his produce share group members to be passionate about the industry, and drove us all to be better retailers.
I will truly miss him not only as a mentor, inspirational leader, but a friend.
— Bob Harding
Produce Director/Terminal Market Buyer
Our retail share group was run by Chandler Copps. He was one of the best facilitators that I have ever met. His insightfulness got us to think about what affects our business beyond our own bubbles. He prodded us when we needed it and listened intently when the conversation took life. Everyone’s opinions and ideas are as valuable as the next member – no matter what size your organization. As equals, we share in full and trust in each other.
Chandler fostered a friendship between us that goes beyond our meetings. That is what this business is about at the core – relationships. Relationships that help you in business – help you in life. Chandler organized us and gave us insight into new worlds. It helped to round us all. The experience was and is invaluable. He will be deeply missed, and his legacy will last a lifetime through all he mentored.
Although I never really knew Chandler Copps on an everyday personal level, I had an immense amount of respect for the professionalism and work ethic he displayed time and time again. Through his leadership and forward thinking during our Retail Produce Marketing Share Group Meetings, Chandler demonstrated what I felt to be the epitome of leadership.
His style made it easy to learn and because of this, I believe he helped me to become more of an asset to my company and to better myself professionally. Brainstorming ideas which surfaced through his meetings kept me motivated and hungry to improve on my ideas, which I believe is what Chandler strived for.
He was someone who knew how to work hard, but then also found the balance to play hard. Through this approach, he created a unique bond between his members, which only helped in the effectiveness and outcome of his meetings. He was a true gentleman and was respected whole heartedly by all those who knew him.
— Brian Lewis
Produce Operations Director
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Chandler’s Share Groups were a networking opportunity that could be found nowhere else. I was envious of the Produce Group as I would always ask that Floral be included in their meetings, but it seemed that few of the Produce Guys knew enough about their floral programs to make it beneficial.
When Paul Kneeland was still with Roche Bros. he and I spoke with Chandler about incorporating Floral into the Produce group. I’m pleased to say we were able to persuade him. In 2003, I was fortunate to host the first joint Share Group Meeting of Produce and Floral in Boston. Chandler didn’t attend this first Floral meeting, but he heard all about it when he arrived in Boston for the Produce sessions.
Chan being Chan, the idea that he wasn’t that familiar with the floral side of the supermarket business piqued his interest. In subsequent years, he would sit and listen to the floral presentations, concerns, and similarity in operational issues that the members would bring to the group. Although his knowledge of the floral business was limited, he would present wonderful personal experiences of sending flowers. He found antidotes within other areas in the business that mirrored the floral operations and extended great insight into how they had dealt with similar situations.
Floral operations within the supermarket business had always felt like a secluded island to me before I joined Chandler’s share group. There was no bar to measure your success or failures. This group was an invaluable source in measuring your business with others. In addition to being an excellent resource for new ideas, Chan’s groups are highly motivational and inspire us to look well past our competition. Choosing to lead the race, not join it, Chandler was inspirational in making me the operator I am today. I will miss his great smile, offbeat humor, and unparalleled guidance.
— Debbie Loche
Roche Bros. Supermarket
Chandler Copps was the most knowledgeable Produce Man that I’ve ever known. I was pretty young and was just promoted to Produce Director when I first met Chan in 1991. He was operating Retail Produce Merchandising Network (RPMN). I feel being in Chandlers’ RPMN Group became instrumental in my successes as a Produce Director.
Over the years, I have come to know that there are not too many people in this industry that are as passionate and as genuine as he was. He had a youthful smile, a great sense of humor and was genuinely concerned about all the people he came in contact with. He knew all aspects of the business from the grower end all the way to the customer buying the product off the shelf.
To me, Chan was an inspirational leader, a great coach and mentor and a friend. He really understood his role as a facilitator and could guide any group in a positive direction. He knew how to create a fun and learning atmosphere!
He was well-traveled and always excitable with new possibilities; a true student of life. Even in his health-challenged days, he continued to exude passion and loved talking about all aspects of the food business.
Chandler was a kind and true gentleman and will be missed by all.
— Lou Malaponti
Director of Produce and Floral Operations
Balls Food Stores
Kansas City, Missouri
Chandler was one of us, and he understood what we did. We did not meet to commiserate but to improve. Chandler led the charge through times where, quite honestly, we could have found it easier to compromise standards rather than do those difficult things necessary to compete.
He will be missed.
— Dick McKellogg
Lowes Food Stores
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
I recall the day I received a call from Chandler over 20 years ago in reference to starting a Retail Produce Merchandising Network with non-competing, well respected retailers from across the country. At the time, I thought, what more could I learn from a group of retailers that I haven’t already experienced or done. Chandler convinced me to give it a try and I’m glad I did.
Chandler’s life-long experiences in the grocery and especially the produce industry were invaluable to all of us. I was honored to be a part of his first and I believe his favorite share group. Chandler always kept us on track and up to date with new ideas and formats.
Chan was a dynamic leader and facilitator of the group. He had a keen, yet sometimes quirky sense of humor—always looking at our business from a very unique perspective. This opened our eyes to new ideas, helping to keep our business fresh and current.
However, Chandler’s best attribute was one of a mentor and, more importantly, a friend. His life-long lessons and passion for our business that Chan instilled in us will continue long into the future. We have truly lost a great gentleman. He will be missed by all who knew him.
— Tom Murray
Vice President of Produce-Floral Operations
Roche Brothers Supermarkets
I’ve known Chandler for only 12 years, but what an honor it has been and what great memories I’ll always have. Even though I’m sure many of the things we all say about him will sound a bit repetitious, it’s only because Chandler was such a standup guy.
He was like a father to me… unfortunately, mine died 25 years ago… Chandler and I could talk about anything. He welcomed me into the group from day one and that’s when the education started. He’s one of these guys where the old statement is so true; “he’s forgotten more about produce than I’ll ever know”, and I’ve been doing this for 35 years.
What a great human being he was—a mentor, a leader, a great example, a friend. I’m a better person, thanks to Chandler, and so are many, many other people. I can only hope that the many lessons he’s taught me will lead me to make the right decisions as I move forward.
This is a very sad time. I’ll miss him dearly, but I’m very grateful to have known him. To Elaine and the kids, hopefully your many found memories will bring a smile to your face from time to time, and will guide you as you move forward. Thanks for sharing him with each of us. We’re forever grateful.
— Tim Peterson
H. Brooks & Company
New Brighton, Minnesota
Chandler’s death is truly a sad event for me and the industry. Chandler was a corner stone in the foundation of true competition through excellence! His passion for the independent retailer and his efforts to bring us together in the spirit of sharing common successes has made a huge difference in the market place!!!
I know that his contribution to us all will live on through each and everyone of us, well into the future… Chandler Copps will be missed by us all… but his legacy will live on in our hearts.
— Joe Pulicicchio
Town & Country Markets Inc.
I had the privilege of knowing and working with Chan as part of the Retail Produce Merchandising Group for 12 years when I was on the retail side of the industry with Randalls Food Markets and Marsh Supermarkets.
Chan was a positive leader to this dynamic share group of regional chains committed to his vision of excellence. He was a great moderator and facilitated our meetings with grace, humility, and a sense of humor that helped each of us get back so much more than we contributed as individuals.
Chan had a passion for people and produce that allowed him to place innovation at the forefront of his contributions to member companies and the industry. He was diligent, professional, and understood relationships were the key to building a team with common goals and values. Chan touched and enhanced many lives, and he will be missed by everyone who had a chance to get to know him.
— Jim Richter
Executive Vice President
Sales and Marketing
Chandler Copps had a passion to help people succeed and be successful. Chandler and I became friends in 2002 as I was in my first year of Director of Produce, with a lot to learn.
Chandler was instrumental in helping me grow and make connections and establish relationships with others that I could learn from and communicate with. No matter when or what an issue was about, whenever you called him about something, he always went above and beyond in helping you. I owe much of my success to the benefits of crossing paths with Chandler, and will greatly miss him.
— Mike Tipton
Director of Produce/Floral Operations
K-VAT Food Stores Inc.
The industry will be poorer for Chandler’s absence. We extend our condolences to Chandler’s wife, Elaine; his sons, Chandler, Richard and John; his daughters, Janet Copps and Margaret Fischer; his four stepchildren, Laura Buckingham, Sarah Dempsey, Craig Hausman and Karen Hausman, and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.