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Mission Produce's Barnard assumes chairmanship at WGA

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Stephen Barnard, president of Mission Produce Inc. in Oxnard, CA, was elected to serve as chairman of the board of Western Growers Association for the coming year at the group's annual convention, held Nov. 11-14, here.

Joining Mr. Barnard as officers are Senior Vice Chairman Bruce Taylor, chief executive officer of Taylor Farms in Salinas, CA; Vice Chairman Victor Smith, president and CEO of Fresh Innovations in Yuma, DSCN2934Mike Jarrard, president of Mann Packing in Salinas, CA, and the 2012 Western Growers Association chairman of the board, with 2013 WGA Chairman Stephen Barnard, president of Mission Produce Inc. in Oxnard, CA.AZ; Treasurer Mark Teixiera, general manager of Teixiera Farms in Santa Maria, CA; and Executive Secretary John Manfre, partner and manager of Frank Capurro & Son in Moss Landing, CA.

The three-day event featured numerous workshops and social occasions as well as a lot of talk about politics, coming just a few days after the end of the presidential election season, in which Western Growers was an active participant. The organization had endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney for president, and much of the talk centered on explaining his loss.

CNN Commentator David Gergen, a well known politico who has served as a senior adviser in the administrations of four presidents (Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) analyzed the election in the same independent way that typically marks his news analysis.

Mr. Gergen said that President Obama won re-election for several reasons, but chief among them was that the "Obama team outplayed Romney. They played a smarter game."

He quipped that if one scored the 365 days preceding the election on a daily basis, the tally would be 364-1 in favor of President Obama, with Gov. Romney only winning the day of the first debate.

He said incumbent presidents rarely lose re-election bids, and the Obama team did everything they needed to do - including having a superior ground game - to win.

Mr. Gergen did point to a couple of other factors, including the changing demographics in the United States as well as Gov. Romney's shift to the right during the primaries. He said the far right wing of the Republican Party, characterized as the Tea Party, "sucked" the governor to that side of the political spectrum while he was battling other Republicans and his move back to the center, where he ideologically lies, was awkward in the general election, and didn't play well.

Mr. Gergen said that the Republicans also have to understand that winning the majority of white male voters is not enough to capture the White House. They must appeal to women and minorities or they will forever be the party on the outside looking in.

He does not believe that will requires a drastic change in principles, but he does believe there has to be a shift on issues such as immigration reform, reproductive rights and pay equity for women.

The convention also featured former Trader Joe's President Doug Rauch, who spoke of the rapid ascent of that retailer and how it became one of America's favorite chains. While many retailers are fighting communities to find store locations, Trader Joe's is typically invited in.

Mr. Rauch joined the company in the 1970s when it was a small regional operation with nine stores and left in 2008 after it had gone nationwide and opened up hundreds of stores.

He listed many keys to the company's success, including the ability to be unique and not follow the trends. While almost every other chain was adding SKUs, Trader Joe's was cutting back and only offering a product if it could justify its existence as being something unique - either in the product itself or in some value proposition that other chains weren't delivering.

Driving every product decision was the company's desire to provide high quality at a low price. If that wasn't possible, the product was not offered.

Mr. Rauch also discussed Trader Joe's "reinvention" of the private label as a premium product, and the company customer focus. He said that other retailers might claim to focus on customers, but they don't. He argued that you can't sell floor space or end caps to the highest bidder and claim your focus is on what the consumer wants.

For more detailed stories on these seminars as well as other coverage from the WGA convention, see the Nov. 26 print edition of The Produce News.