Earlier this summer, we received the official word that Tonya Antle was going to retire from Earthbound Farms. We ran the announcement in Pundit sister publication PerishableNews.com as soon as the press release went out, but we thought we would wait to weigh in until PMA so people would have an opportunity to thank Tonya for a lifetime of exceptional contribution to the trade.
You don’t have to trust the Pundit on this one. Here are just a few of the nice comments sent to us upon the announcement… comments that address both the unique quality of the person and the unique contributions she has made to the trade:
You probably heard the announcement on Tonya Antle’s retirement and I want to give testimony to one of the “shakers and movers” of the organic movement. The organic category may still be in the specialty area of a supermarket if it wasn’t for Tonya.
I can still recall the outstanding Greek girl calling on me to sell me on stocking organic grapes grown by her husband’s family, the Pavich’s. No doubt her looks helped her get the appointment, but it was sheer talent and passion for the product that convinced me to give it a try.
We tried it in our Pavilions division and other high volume/high education areas and it did well. Not only did I give it a try, but in a couple of seasons she convinced me she had enough volume to have me use it as our #1 ad item for the entire chain. She was right and it was a great success in sales, with a ton of letters from our customers telling us it was the best grapes they had purchased at our Von’s stores.
I can’t tell you how many boring organic panels I sat through until it was Tonya’s turn to speak. She put all of her produce savvy and passion into what she was saying. I am not alone on my feelings for what she has done for the organic category as I have heard similar stories from the likes of Ed Odron, Harold Alston, Tony Missai and many others.
— Dick Spezzano
[Former Vice President of Produce for Vons]
Others remember both Tonya’s business savvy and her personal effervescence:
When it comes to reminiscing about Tonya Antle, I do seem to remember a PMA convention evening in New Orleans, and a karaoke performance that had me singing with a group of backup singers and dancers that were affectionately known as my “Doo-Wop” girls, and led on stage by none other than Miss Tonya!
I will have to check with a few of my fellow conventioneers to see if they recollect more of the details. If we check the convention locations, New Orleans should have been around 1990.
On a serious note, I remember Tonya calling on my team at Dominick’s in the late 80’s and early 90’s long before organics had been established….. and so admiring her passion for the product and her enthusiastic presentation. Her passion paid dividends and we sold a great deal of Tonya’s product.
— Bob DiPiazza
DiPiazza Consulting Services, Inc.
[Formerly Senior Vice President and
General Merchandising Manager for Sam’s Club
and formerly Vice President of Produce for Dominick’s]
Others point out Tonya’s role in moving from one leading organic marketer to another:
Tonya was instrumental in establishing organics at Wegmans.
Her persistence with Pavich organics in the early days assisted in placing organic produce on the map for us.
As the leader of Earthbound Farms and through her efforts of educating our team at Wegmans with organics, Tonya launched us into a different stratosphere!
I applaud all that Tonya brought to us over the years to create a true destination for this ever growing segment!
Vice President Produce
Wegmans Food Markets
Rochester, New York
While another retail leader found that Tonya exemplified authenticity before authenticity was cool:
The single word that comes to my mind when I think of Tonya is “genuine”. She is genuinely beautiful, genuinely charming, genuinely funny, genuinely intelligent, and genuinely passionate.
And when you think of all of the “canned’ approaches that so many people in sales display, I always appreciated Tonya’s approach to her profession, and her approach to her friends. And so often they were one in the same.
Anyone who has had the opportunity to interact with Tonya was better off for the experience.
[Formerly Senior Vice President and
General Manager of Perishables for Wal-Mart]
Tonya is now going on to be an adjunct professor in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at Cal Poly — San Luis Obispo. Whoever gets to be her students will be mighty lucky.
When we think about Tonya, five things come to mind.
Rootedness — Tonya is a Hronis, and she has worked her whole life in the industry she was born in. The whole organic ethos of rootedness and connectedness is intrinsic in her life story.
Exuberance — This PMA convention is the 25th anniversary of Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS at the PMA convention in San Francisco. We celebrated the launch on the dance floor with Tonya and for years after Ken Whitacre, with whom this Pundit launched PRODUCE BUSINESS, would cut quite a rug with Tonya. She has always enjoyed what life offered up to be enjoyed. As a result those around her have always been happier for her presence. That is a great gift.
Focus — See her dancing at a party and you would think she was just a party girl — this is a party girl with a business focus like steel. We remember in the early years of the Pack Family/PMA Career Pathways program. Both Tonya and the Pundit were “mentors” for the students and, one day, back in the pre-cell phone age — Tonya didn’t show up. We covered for her and took care of the student then the Pundit went out to find Tonya and make sure she was OK.
We found her selling the buyers for Stop & Shop, and when we asked why she missed the meeting she was already playing a marketing professor. She said, “My first mentoring lesson for my student is ‘go for the order’. When the buyer is ready to order, you help him do so. My student just got the most valuable lesson in marketing I could give.”
We used that with the students that year and she was absolutely right.
Passionate realism — Whatever job she has had, Tonya always believed in her cause. She managed to sell organics without losing site of the reality in which a commercial industry must function and budget-constrained individuals must live. She never became Michael Pollen, but we would say she got more people to eat organic than he did.
Love and Friendship — Tonya danced at the Pundit’s wedding and we have shared happy times. Yet we came to really understand Tonya when, one day, many years ago, we found her hidden away at a trade show, crying. It was a personal matter that had hit her hard. We sat for awhile. Got her a drink and then, like Scarlett in Gone With the Wind declaring she would never be hungry again, Tonya wiped her tears, pulled herself together and declared herself ready to go on.
She did go on both professionally, finding a new home at Earthbound Farms and, personally, marrying Rick Antle. She added a dose of electricity both at work and at home.
We hope she will ask us to guest lecture, less because we need another speaking gig than because every once in awhile we need a dose of Tonya’s electric personality.
We wish Tonya the best in her retirement. She was instrumental in building the organic industry. In the course of doing so, she won the respect, friendship and love of many she came to interact with. We are glad that between CSU, Rick and Tonya’s family we know that retirement, in this case at least, is not the same as saying goodbye.