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United Fresh chairman shares priorities for coming year

Ron Carkoski, president and chief executive officer of Ephrata, PA-based Four Seasons Family of Cos., officially was named the new chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association in April, but he will take the gavel in front of the full membership at the United Fresh convention in Chicago.CarkoskiRon Carkoski

Before joining Four Seasons in 1994, he worked for nearly 20 years in the business for Gateway Foods/Scrivner, Carpenter Cook Co. and Gamble Robinson Co.

It may not be surprising that he views immigration as an issue that should be at the top of everyone’s radar. If you can’t get the product harvested, it doesn’t make a difference what you’re selling, he told The Produce News.  

Another top issue is implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, a complex web of rules that demands the industry keep abreast of everything from new water standards to animal feed.

“It sounds funny as a produce wholesaler to be concerned about animal feed, but we all provide pulp to farmers,” he said. “We have to be very cognizant how we do that now.”

But he also wants to work at making United Fresh more valuable to its members, whether it’s stepping up public policy or professional development.

For example, he said the co-location of United’s convention with the Food Marketing Institute is a great boon for the produce supply chain to meet with retailers and this year is important to make a good first impression.

“I definitely want to help create a huge success with that,” he said.

Carkoski also sees an opportunity for United Fresh’s four market segment boards and the seven advisory councils to not only service their constituencies but also work together and combine strengths.

United Fresh members are elected by the membership to serve on the 20-person boards that are designed to ensure the association understands business issues for each sector. The advisory councils provide expertise to the association on a variety of issues, such as government relations, nutrition and food safety.

For example, he called the Food Safety & Technology Council an “incredibly strong and talented” committee, and its members have “effectively guided” the group through FSMA.  

There are many different issues, such as transportation, that demand the strength of the entire association, he said.

As past chairman of the Wholesale-Distributor Board, Carkoski said his board met independently, “but we haven’t really taken advantage of the strengths of putting together the expertise of other boards and councils.” He added that the combined efforts “would probably be advantageous to the industry.”

Another goal of the new chairman is to help membership understand the need to keep informed and involved.

“I think that’s how United can be more effective for its members, and I think that’s how the members will be more effective for United,” said Carkoski. “It’s more than just us sitting here and deciding once a year whether or not to write a check.”

Carkoski wants to find ways to bring more members to the table so membership becomes more involved and everyone can benefit from the industry.

“I’ve grown up in this industry — it’s been very good to our family,” he said, noting that his son is working as director of operations for a Minnesota firm. “It’s an industry that’s given a lot to us.”