OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE 2023

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The Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), in partnership with Grocery Business, developed the Outstanding Women in Produce initiative to recognize the achievements of women in the produce industry. The 10 women nominated for 2023 by their industry peers were selected because of their notable contributions in advancing the Canadian fresh produce sector.

“As we bring the fresh produce industry together in Toronto for Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s Annual Convention and Trade Show (CPMA 2023), we are excited to, once again, celebrate women who work in our industry,” says Sue Lewis, VP, Market Development for the CPMA>

“The honourees are nominated by their peers in five categories, including sales, marketing, operations, management, and leadership. This year, these exceptional women will be recognized at the CPMA/Grocery Business Outstanding Women in Produce reception on Wednesday, April 26 during the CPMA Convention and Trade Show in Toronto.”

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MANAGEMENT

HALEY COOKSON

Category Manager, Produce, Save-On-Foods

I started my career as a cashier at Save-On-Foods in Chilliwack, B.C. It has been incredibly fulfilling to work my way up through the company from cashier to produce manager to produce buyer to my current role as a produce category manager. Being able to influence change and produce innovation as we tackle these challenges has been rewarding.

Advice

You need to be passionate about produce. There are new obstacles and challenges every day, so you need to love what you do! And that passion extends to the people you work with. Networking and growing relationships with people from across the produce industry is so important. There is so much experience and knowledge that can be shared to make us all better.

Inspiration

In 2022, I attended the Women’s Fresh Perspectives Conference and it was incredible to see the hundreds of women in our industry gathered together. Being able to connect with women from all sectors of our industry made me excited for the future of produce and what women can bring to the table.

Lessons Learned

Always be ready for change and be able to adapt and pivot.

Believe in yourself and stand by your convictions and decisions. Don’t give up if you make mistakes; learn from them.

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SALES & MARKETING

AMANDA KNAUFF

Director of Sales, Taylor Farms

My introduction to the produce industry was when I attended the CPMA Convention and Trade Show in 2018 while still working in CPG, and it was obvious how genuinely people enjoyed their work. I appreciate the collaboration, even between competitors.

A big draw for me to join Taylor Farms five years ago was the company vision to expand its footprint in Canada. A proud career milestone is leading the sales team to the opening of our first Canadian manufacturing facility in Ontario, April 2022. I’ve also been fortunate to be involved in the OPMA, where I serve on the board of directors and learn from some of the best in the industry.

Advice

Networking in the industry and internally will be critical in accelerating your learning of the business. Building comprehensive knowledge that goes beyond your job title will best prepare you to tackle real-time adversity that we often face and foster stronger relationships within the business. 

Inspiration

My inspiration daily to be a humble and an integrity-led leader comes from observing my father in his role as a sales manager. I am incredibly grateful I have him on speed dial in moments I need a listening ear! I can also turn to many powerful women in my circle who support and challenge me when I need to be bold, brave and lead with my values. It inspires me to prioritize giving back to others, the way they have done for me.

Lessons Learned

Don’t suffer in silence; when the going gets tough, vulnerability in asking questions can be powerful. Reaching out to others has accelerated my growth more than anything and has helped me keep my sanity in this fast-paced industry.

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LEADERSHIP

ROCHELLE SARDINHA

Program Sales Manager, Gambles Group of Companies

In my time with the Gambles, I have been a part of many projects and committees and worked in various departments. A memorable milestone was being a member of the implementation team with our online ordering platform and ERP software transitions. Although I have been primarily in sales and customer service for over 20 years, I have taken on additional responsibilities managing and overseeing the floral category, import logistics, and distribution, which has allowed me to expand my skills in the industry.

Advice

The produce industry can be a fierce, intense, and competitive business. Be prepared to grind and pivot to keep up and stay ahead. Focus on the unique advantage of your team and organization and acquire the skills to make yourself the most valuable person you can be. Take initiative to strengthen your skills and learn things you don’t know. Set yourself apart from the competition.  

Inspiration

I am fortunate to be surrounded by many people who inspire me daily. My wonderful family inspires me to work hard and never give up. I have an amazing group in program sales that inspires me to be the best leader I can be. The executive leadership team inspires me to drive for the best results and gives me confidence to keep pushing forward.

Lessons Learned

Embrace every challenge as a learning opportunity, most importantly the ones that have exposed my vulnerability. This has helped me express authenticity, uncover hidden potential, and develop meaningful connections. I no longer consider vulnerability in the workplace to be a weakness but rather a strength that gives courage and resiliency,  which allows me to remain open minded and adaptive. 

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OPERATIONS

RAMILA MUDARTH

Pricing Lead for Produce, Loblaw Companies

Assuming the role as a produce pricing lead was a significant career milestone for me. I created a process architecture that made it possible to quickly analyze weekly pricing using extensive amounts of data. This enables me to retain our competitiveness while helping our customers Live Life Well.

When dealing with produce pricing, it’s impossible to get complacent. Getting the right product at the appropriate price is crucial, since it is an extremely emotional situation for the customer. My actions directly affect the company’s financial health, making managing produce pricing a responsible job. I work with vast amounts of data daily, which motivated me to earn my data science certification. As a result, I can now add data science approaches into my weekly analysis, which has improved my overall findings and results.

Advice

Have a passion for food. I established my passion while working in supply chain, where I built a foundation in produce sourcing, distribution, and market knowledge. I took advantage of the opportunities to move around in my company, to support produce in different capacities. I would encourage someone new to the industry to build networks and be open to new opportunities.

Inspiration

Loblaw has a robust mentoring program and the woman who has been coaching me and advocating for me over the past year has had the biggest impact on my career. I have always known the importance of having a voice at the table, but being a minority woman and a self-described introvert, putting that into practice has never been easy. My mentor has been able to engender self-assurance and dismantle any barriers I had set up. Thanks to her support and guidance, I can now concentrate on the content rather than how I will be perceived.

Lessons Learned

Fighting complacency, establishing worthwhile personal goals, continuing education, and achieving work-life balance have all helped me advance professionally. I am always challenged to create a new version of myself through learning and development. While trailblazing through my career, I am also mindful to incorporate time for mental renewal.

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OPERATIONS

LIRON MESCHEL

National Sourcing Manager, Sobeys Inc.

I have been in produce all my life; my family owned flower plantations and a packing house, and we had a partnership in citrus orchards. I’m an agronomist and have an MBA specializing in entrepreneurship and innovation. So I have worked on the grower side of the business for most of my career globally. Six years ago, I immigrated to Canada and two years ago, I joined Sobeys in my current role as national sourcing manager for citrus and melons.

Advice

I have had many opportunities to join different industries, but I turned them down because I wanted to work in produce. This industry is dynamic and changes rapidly; each season is different. People in this industry are the best to work with. Once you get into the produce sector, it’s almost impossible to get out; it’s a bit like an addiction, but a good one!

Inspiration

What I enjoy most about my work, and where I get inspiration from, is the support I have from the team and the leadership in our company that helps us to build strong, meaningful relationships and programs with our growers from around the world.

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SALES & MARKETING

EMILY MURRACAS

Director of Marketing, Mucci Farms

I take a lot of pride in being able to contribute to the industry in a variety of ways, but especially through the industry committees that work on the biggest challenges of the day. I’m grateful to be on the CPMA Marketing and Education committees, and my involvement with the plastics committee has given me the opportunity to learn about sustainability and contribute to the conversation. Another milestone of mine is being selected as an honouree for the 2023 Outstanding Women in Produce!

What I love most about work is having an ownership group that supports our team with critical resources and the freedom to make an impact in the produce marketing landscape. What I love about the industry are the people I have met. 

Advice

Learn a little bit about every area of the business. No matter what your specific job is, your ability to contribute to broader discussions and large-scale decisions will increase dramatically if you are familiar with every facet of the supply chain, from seed to retail. It sounds cliché, but the day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit. Be patient, stay the course, and take the time to truly work on your craft.

Inspiration

My husband John, who helps me be the best version of myself by constantly encouraging me to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I am also inspired by my team, who have helped Mucci Farms achieve unprecedented heights through numerous awards and recognitions inside and outside the industry.

Lessons Learned

You have to put a lot of work and time into developing your career. Nothing comes easy, and it’s important to stay even keeled in an industry that often has a lot of unpredictability. I’ve learned you must always be open to change, and it’s imperative to invest in and empower your team. Together, more is accomplished!

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MANAGEMENT

AUDREY DESNOYERS

Director of Business Development and Key Account Management, Oppy

I have a quote by Tom Peters taped to my monitor: “True leaders don’t create followers.  They create more leaders.” In 2015, I was promoted to business development team manager for Oppy. I took over the responsibility of training our recently hired reps. One of the biggest successes and distinct pleasures in my career has been introducing a number of young stars to Oppy, who progressed to take on leadership roles within our company and the produce industry.

Advice

When issues arise (and they inevitably do in this business), maintain a “solutions based” approach, give credit where credit is due, use your ears more than your mouth and stay persistent – success is rarely immediate.

Inspiration

Our grower partners inspire me – their commitment to quality, progressing sustainability, investments in technology to create efficiencies, care for their people are among the reasons. I had the opportunity to visit our amazing grower partners for hot house vegetables from Mexico. I heard from their greenhouse workers about the benefits of the Fair Trade program.

Lessons Learned

Authenticity is key – stay positive but always be real. Relationships are the key to succeeding in the produce industry – listen. Pick up the phone when difficulties arise – e-mail is great for laying out details but cannot replace the one-on-one conversation to overcome issues. Action above words: follow through on what you say. Celebrate the success of others – give credit where credit is due.

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OPERATIONS

MELANIE WILSON

Director of Produce Presentation, IGA

When I joined our store, the produce department had been floundering. In the months that followed, having increasing sales and customer satisfaction with the changes in our department felt like a milestone and continues to be something we strive for on a daily basis. I love the interaction with customers and the diversity in projects throughout the department, whether in day-to-day details or planning for upcoming seasons.  We are a fairly small store, so I have daily interaction with all aspects of our produce department.

Advice

Learn as much as you can about the industry, whether it is about the produce itself, or merchandising ideas and strategies. Things can change rapidly, so staying informed is very important.

Inspiration

My co-workers and management inspire me – the team of employees in our store work well together, both encouraging and inspiring each other. We strive to work as a cohesive unit, which helps improve our entire store.

Lessons Learned

There are always new things to learn, so keep learning. Consumers purchase using their senses (sight, touch, smell), so it is very important to ensure the quality of all the produce. If I would not be willing to purchase the item myself (because of a quality issue), then it likely should not be on the sales floor for our customers either.

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LEADERSHIP

LEONA NEILL

Director, Marketing & Packaging, Red Sun Farms

One of the achievements that I am most proud of in the produce industry is my ability to work with retail partners and suppliers to uncover solutions that meet our sustainable goals. From compostable PLUs and washable labels, to increasing PCR levels in our plastics, we all have a responsibility in bringing a more sustainable offering to our next generations.

I absolutely love the people in the industry, and especially those who surround me at work each day. They have unique strengths and skills, and are united in their passion and commitment to deliver the very best in quality and flavour to our consumers.

Advice

Be bold; bringing best practices from outside the industry helps to build a better, more efficient future for the produce world. Take the time to ask questions because produce is unique and rich in history. It is important to understand the value of what has been done to improve our tomorrows. And remember, the produce industry is founded on relationships between farmers, suppliers and industry services. Those who have spent time in this industry pride themselves on being part of a produce family, one that is committed to delivering freshness, flavour and nutrition to our communities.

Inspiration

There have been so many inspirational people in my life, from the women I work with who balance family and careers, to my mom who dedicated all her time to raising our family. The most important inspiration comes from my family; I am blessed to have them by my side. I want to inspire them to be their best selves, to do what they love, and to appreciate those around them, because that is what they bring to my world.

Lessons Learned

Don’t be afraid to take a chance to try something new. The environment we live in is constantly changing. This creates opportunities to look at new ways of working, taking on new responsibilities, reaching out to your peers for guidance and support. We are all in this industry together, striving for the same goal of bringing nutritious produce to our communities.

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SALES & MARKETING

EVELYNE RIVARD

Regional Sales Manager, Eastern Canada, The Little Potato Company

I absolutely love how vibrant and alive the produce industry is. Constantly evolving and moving, new products, packaging ideas, and the people are simply outstanding. Working at The Little Potato Co., we strive to bring innovation to the category, and we’ve succeeded in changing consumers’ habits a “little” at a time.

Advice

Building any career takes dedication and hard work and love of what you do!  A career in produce is a privilege that I was given later in my career; how I wish I had started earlier in this great industry.

Inspiration

I am inspired by opportunities to make a difference, to help, to bring new ideas and product to the shelves and onto the plates of consumers. I am also inspired by great people who work together for the greater good.

Lessons Learned

Not to be afraid to take a leap or work hard, and be true to yourself.

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