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N2N Global helps businesses navigate maze of PTI

by Chip Carter | April 18, 2010
LONGWOOD, FL -- Angela Paymard is not a farmer. She has never grown, shipped, sold or transported produce. But she knows how to help those who do go about it more efficiently -- and more profitably.

"My life is not growing tomatoes. My life is showing people how to use technology to make their lives better," said Ms. Paymard, chairman of N2N Global, a company, based here, that provides business solutions to the produce industry.

N2N's open-source and custom software programs, such as Food Safety Manager and Knowledge Integrated Software Suite, are used by dozens of industry stalwarts, small to mammoth. Chiquita has been a client since 1997, and Sunkist Growers came on 10 years before that.

"They're in the farming business, I'm in the technology business. I'm not going to tell them how to farm," Ms. Paymard said. "I'm an analyst at heart."

N2N's products and programs are increasingly popular in an industry looking for help meeting the self-imposed, incremental guidelines of the Produce Traceability Initiative by the end of 2012. Businesses that grow, ship and sell food are also scrambling to stay ahead of the curve on pending food-safety legislation from Congress.

"Over the last 18 months, we have grown by 100 percent. While others were laying off, we were hiring," Ms. Paymard said. "There are all these confused messages out there about the PTI, and it's left the industry in flux. When the hammer comes down, this has to be properly applied."

Companies trading in produce are at varying stages of readiness for the new tangle of rules and regulations, Ms. Paymard said.

"Some of them are at the point where they're ready to flip that switch," she said. "Others are waiting to see if [retailers and foodservice] are going to stop accepting shipments at the dock. Some just feel it doesn't apply to them. The PTI is being trivialized to some degree in the industry, and to consumers, it's the 2,100-pound gorilla in the room. It's one side of the pendulum vs. the other, consumer versus grower."

A former investment banker, stockbroker and Division 1 college soccer player from Ventura County, CA, Ms. Paymard might seem an unlikely shepherd to help guide the produce industry through the PTI maze. Now 33, she rose rapidly through the ranks of the finance industry but grew weary of it by 2007, when she independently brokered an investment deal involving RFID tags for growers. That led her to the April 2008 United Fresh show; shortly thereafter she acquired N2N Global, which had done business under other names since 1983.

She has been busy ever since. Last year, Ms. Paymard racked up 250,000 frequent flier miles. She has a wallet filled with platinum club membership cards for every airline imaginable, just like the one George Clooney's character flashed in "Up In the Air." She spends 8,000 minutes on her cell phone each month and sends 10,000 text messages.

About half of N2N's clients go with out-of-the-box solutions, including open-source software that "provides item-level traceability," Ms. Paymard said. "It's simple, free and hot."

The other half is looking for custom solutions, a process Ms. Paymard compared to smart phone technology. "You use probably 5 percent of that phone's capabilities," she said. "What if the designer could sit with you for a month and show you all the things it can do?"

She added, "It's really important to emphasize that we're a technology partner. I've come to look at our company as a doctor - some people just need to have some soup and sit at home, some need some serious medical attention."

Ms. Paymard realizes that the produce industry is wary of service providers promising the moon.

"This industry has been so screwed over by service providers it's not even funny. Nine out of 10 times when I walk in a shop, I hear horror stories," she said. "But I truly believe we have a responsibility and are going to bring change to this world via this industry. There are a lot of tools out there growers, shippers, retailers and logistics providers could use to improve their business."