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RJO Hires Retailer Scott Zeier

It is always interesting when grower-shippers hire retailers. Our usual rule of thumb is that the likelihood of success is inversely proportioned to the size of the chain.

Bruce Knobeloch, for example, has thrived on the grower-shipper side of the business obtaining the position of Vice President of Marketing at River Ranch. But he originally moved out of retail to a dot com and he was from Schnucks, a relatively small chain.

Why does size matter? No matter what shippers say, if they hire someone from Wal-Mart, Safeway, Kroger, SuperValu or Costco and many others of substantial size, they are really hoping that the new employee can help them get business from their old haunt.

It usually doesn’t work out. Ex-employees rarely have that kind of influence. Once in a rare while, a person retires and his protégé takes over. But, typically, people who leave before retiring are leaving for a reason or had little influence on their successor.

If, however, grower-shippers hire someone from a smaller retailer, they are probably looking for retail expertise so they can help their customers. This is when it makes sense.

We’ve received notice that RJO Produce Marketing has hired Scott Zeier, formerly of Fresh Brands and this looks like a hire that will work because it is focused on the customer:

RJO Produce Marketing
puts emphasis on retail needs

The company hires 30-year retail veteran to focus on retail support efforts

FRESNO, CA (July 2, 2007) — In a move that signals the company’s continuing fresh approach to produce marketing, today RJO announced that it hired Scott Zeier as vice president.

RJO president John O’Rourke says Zeier’s 30-year retail produce career brings additional retail produce marketing expertise to the company.

“Hiring Scott is a move that strengthens our approach to serving retailers. His depth of knowledge and experience with day-to-day retail operations gives us a significant advantage in understanding our retail customers’ needs,” says O’Rourke.

Zeier will be responsible for administering RJO’s retail service programs, including category management services, merchandising programs and coordination of plans between retailers and growers.

Zeier will be based in Wisconsin.

“Being located in the Upper Midwest gives me easy access to our customers,” Zeier says. “I plan to travel to growing regions and ports of entry about twice a quarter to keep an eye on production operations, and I will spend the rest of the time working with and visiting retailers.”

In 1976, Zeier began his retail produce career with Schultz Sav-O stores in Wisconsin, where he became a produce supervisor. When the company began buying other retailers and expanding, Zeier was promoted to director of produce operations for Fresh Brands, the parent company of Schultz Sav-O that also operates Piggly Wiggly stores in the Midwest. In 1995 he was promoted to vice president of produce operations, and he became the vice president of perishables for Fresh Brands in 2003. In that role he was responsible for all of the company’s perishables operations including produce, floral, meat and deli.

Zeier developed Piggly Wiggly’s “Pampered to Perfection” program, along with other successful retail produce programs.

“For our programs at Piggly Wiggly to be successful in a marketplace filled with major retail competitors, we had to be creative and react quickly,” Zeier says. “It’s that type of thinking that I want to bring to RJO’s retail customers. With my retail experience and RJO’s field-based knowledge, we will be able to help our customers differentiate themselves.”

O’Rourke says the addition of Zeier to the company’s expanding resources is a perfect fit.

“Scott’s 30-year background in produce merchandising goes well beyond Piggly Wiggly,” O’Rourke says. “Through associations and share groups and affiliation with national buying cooperatives, Scott has implemented marketing and merchandising programs all over the country. His demand experience will strongly support our existing supply-side services. He will be able to track programs from end-to-end and ensure that we deliver on the retailer’s needs.”

Zeier said he was attracted to working for RJO because it is a sales-driven organization. “RJO has always been innovative and focused on getting results for retailers. I want to be a part of that,” says Zeier.

O’Rourke adds, “Scott’s background in strategic planning and category management and his work with a wide variety of national retailers provides depth to the RJO program.”

Fresh Brands was sold and Scott has had a long career, so it is the perfect moment to bring his retail expertise to a grower-shipper. Best of luck to both Scott and RJO Produce Marketing for a long and happy association.

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