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Coast Produce's Erin Liu enjoys playing volleyball indoors and on the beach

LOS ANGELES -- At age 25, Erin Liu has a college degree in psychology, has been working at Coast Produce Co. in Los Angeles for about three-and-a- half years, and has already spent two years on the sales desk.

In her spare time, her favorite activity is volleyball, and she admits to being "very competitive."

Produce wasn't Ms. Liu's intended career path when she began attending the University of Washington in Seattle. She was actually considering pursuing dentistry, "but that ended up not being my path," she told The Produce News June 4. After graduation she came home to Los Angeles and began looking for employment.

"I knew I wanted to work in the food industry," she said, but she really didn't know much about produce other than that she enjoys eating it.

As it happens, Ms. Liu has an uncle who is related by marriage to the family that owns Coast Produce. "I am not really a member of the family," she said, but through her indirect connections, "I happened to find this" job.

It was her "first real job," she said. Previously she had worked in school libraries, in foodservice, in tutoring and in coaching, but never in a business. Ms. Liu was promoted from logistics to sales after just a year-and-a-half, but she said that she learned a great deal working in logistics. "It was a good foundation" which "gave me an understanding of the company" from many sides.

"I have learned a lot about myself" as well, she said. "I learned that I am a competitive person" not only when playing volleyball but in other activities as well. She also learned that she is "very detail oriented."

One important attribute that Ms. Lieu feels she brought with her to the company was a sense of the importance of customer service. "I totally understand what it is like not to get good customer service ... and I didn't want to lose sight of that anytime here," she said.

She also has an insatiable desire to learn, and she finds that her co-workers, most of whom are "20 years or so older than I am," are "willing to share," she said.

It works both ways, actually, because she is more comfortable with computers than some of her co-workers. "I help people with their computers, and I always expect that they help me with my produce knowledge," she said. "My thing is I just want to keep learning. One great thing about Coast is I've got lots of mentors."

She said she's always asking questions like, "Why do we do it this way?" Produce people are "really passionate about this industry," Ms. Liu observed. Not only do they want to sell produce, they want to "get people to eat healthier."

Away from work, "I am like the produce nerd in my group of friends," she said. "To be honest, it is so much fun" being able to talk about "what's in season, what tastes great," and what is cheap right now because it's at peak season. "People are really interested to know," she said.

Ms. Liu has played club volleyball since the age of 11. "When I went to the University of Washington, it is a Division 1 Pac-10 school, so I wasn't expecting to play [varsity]. But she did play club volleyball in college, and "we went to nationals my junior year," placing ninth in the nation.

"It just so happened that my assistant coach became the assistant coach of the varsity team, and they asked me to walk on, so my senior year was a newbie on the varsity team."

Playing collegiate varsity volleyball was something she had dreamed of as a child, and "I finally got my chance to do it," she said. "It taught me a lot - just the intensity, the dedication, the mental state that you have to be in to be at that level. I was among some really good players that are playing professional right now, so it was really an interesting part of my college career."

The team did well, making it to the Final Four that year, and the next year "they won the championship for the first time in school history," she said. "Now, I just play recreational. I play in leagues."

Also, she just recently began playing beach volleyball after work every Wednesday and sometimes Thursday. "I go straight to the beach from work," she said, and produce hours enable her to miss the heavy traffic and get to the beach in time to "put in two or three hours ... before the sun sets."