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International Herbs' new director of business development sets high goals for career

Ryan Cherry looks back to some important advice that he received from his father 11 years ago, advice that would serve him well as he searched for a career path.

Mr. Cherry had just earned his degree in marketing management from the British Columbia Institute of Technology and was mulling over his options as to what industries he could go into.

At the time, Mr. Cherry was working in the produce department at Save On Foods and his father, who had worked in the food industry for many years, saw his son's dilemma and said something to him that would change his life.

"One thing my dad told me that stuck with me is 'people are always going to need to eat and the food industry on the whole was never a bad industry to look at,'" Mr. Cherry said. "That got me started looking in that direction and it really took off from there."

Mr. Cherry, now 29, is the newly appointed director of business development for International Herbs Ltd., a Surrey, BC-based grower-shipper of fresh herbs and specialty produce. Through his young career, he has never strayed far from the produce industry, even during the year he spent in Australia after earning his degree from BCIT.

"I traveled the east coast from Cairns down to Melbourne where I relaxed, went to the beach, surfed, or attempted to," he said. "I did have some produce work in Australia as well. I worked in the sorghum fields picking, or 'rouging sorghum' as they phrased it there," he said. "You would start at four or five in the morning when the sun came up and we would be working in either bone-dry dirt or in some cases mud up to your shins with poisonous snakes going through there. My boss used to carry a needle with anti- venom as the nearest hospital was an hour-and-a-half away. I did some picking of oranges picking. I didn't do that for too long either, as it took too long to fill a barrel. You had to get too far up into the trees and I didn't know that orange trees had thorns on them until then."

Upon his return to British Columbia, Mr. Cherry took a sales position with Neptune Food Service, where he handled street sales to hotels and restaurants in Richmond, BC, a Vancouver suburb.

"Produce was always at the top of my mind as far as an interest level because you had to pay extra close attention because of market changes with weather and where you were importing it from," he said. "We had a really good produce specialist by the name of Bill Foster who conducted a number of educational sessions within the company to help bring the reps up to speed on new and exciting products he was bringing in for the customer."

After two years with Neptune Food Service, Mr. Cherry left to take a position in sales with Trimpac Meat Distributors, catering to restaurants in the Vancouver area. From there, he went back to produce, taking a position as a regional business manager with BC Hot House Foods Inc.

"I was brought in [to BC Hot House] to help drive food service business and help in the process of developing new packaging" as well as increasing BC Hot House's presence in stores such as Sam's Club and Wal-Mart, he said.

While at BC Hot House, Mr. Cherry helped to streamline its foodservice business as well.

"At BC Hot House, we helped develop a 'Sysco' brand box for cucumbers, which got us in the door with them and helped develop that side of the business; they weren't doing a lot of foodservice business prior, as there wasn't really any focus on it," he said.

Mr. Cherry credited his three years at BC Hot House for setting the stage for his produce career.

"BC Hot House got me hooked on produce," he said. "I always had the interest when I was at Neptune but once I got down into it and dealing with only that, it was a good fit. I liked the ever-changing nature of the business, whether it was pricing, market or weather conditions, the changing of the regions from season to season as far as where you are getting your product. I was able to network quite a lot with various people in the industry at BC Hot House, and it is a tight-knit community and a friendly industry to be in. I've found it challenging, which is great. It keeps your mind moving, especially the day-to-day nature of business that's changing from one day to the next, challenge to punch us into markets where we haven't been before is very exciting."

In his current position at International Herbs, Mr. Cherry is working to develop the company's business locally in retail chains and in club stores, an area where the company is not seeing a large presence with fresh herbs and where he believes there is a large potential for growth.

"A lot of average Joes are trying to experiment in their kitchens and are moving away from the dried herbs to a fresh herb," he said. "More and more with the club stores, a lot of restaurant owners are doing a lot of their shopping there because there is competitive pricing and they are offering a great quality product as far as produce goes. That's what we're looking to do here, as well as drive our other specialty produce business."

While he devotes a lot of time to the produce industry, Mr. Cherry still finds time to do other activities such as playing soccer and golf and camping in the summer. In fact, Mr. Cherry has played soccer since he was five years old. He played outdoor soccer until two years ago when he switched to an indoor league in Richmond, BC, where he now plays for the Ladner Football Club, which he referred to as the Ladner F.C.

Though he is "pretty active in sports," Mr. Cherry still spends most of his spare time with his 15-month-old son, Luka, and his wife of three years Ana, who is pregnant with their second child. At the end of the day, Mr. Cherry is quite pleased with how his career in produce has progressed.

"I cannot see myself leaving the produce industry," he said. "I want to further develop my knowledge and my network of contacts as well as IHL's business. We have a really great group of people here committed to growing herbs and the general public's knowledge of them, and I want to stay here and see it through. I'm in it for the long haul."