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MEET THE 2024 OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE

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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 2024 by their industry peers were selected because of their notable contributions in advancing the Canadian fresh produce sector.

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MANAGEMENT

AMANDA LABUCKAS

Director, Fresh Category Management and Merchandising, Discount Format, FreshCo

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Eight years ago, my journey in the world of produce began with a transformative conversation during my year-end review. After dedicating 15 years to the retail sector, I felt a strong desire for a new challenge. I was fortunate to work alongside a leader who not only heard my aspirations but also recognized the untapped potential within me and encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone and explore the vibrant and dynamic world of produce.

Looking ahead, I am eager to contribute to the continued success of Empire and the broader produce industry. This journey, sparked by a single conversation, has not only defined my career but has also become a testament to the boundless possibilities that unfold when one embraces change and seizes opportunities for growth.

INSPIRATION

What captivates me most about the produce industry is the continuous vitality and exhilarating pace of change. Each day brings forth a fresh set of challenges and opportunities, creating an environment that is not only dynamic but also endlessly exciting. The thrill of navigating through the ever-shifting landscape, from staying ahead of seasonal trends to adapting to market fluctuations, injects an undeniable energy into me professionally. It’s a vibrant realm where innovation blooms, and every moment holds the promise of discovery and growth, making the produce industry an exhilarating and truly invigorating place to be.

A pinnacle moment in my career was the launch of our produce initiative, Project Phoenix, undertaken by FreshCo three years ago. This endeavour was a transformative call to action, signifying a rebirth in our approach to the produce department. Delving deep into a reflective process, we took a significant step back to define our identity, aspirations, and the calculated risks required to set us apart in a competitive market.

Project Phoenix symbolized a revival in how we presented produce. The meticulous attention to fixtures, signage, and product display played pivotal roles in this rebirth. The strategy behind Project Phoenix presented a unique opportunity to not. only revitalize our approach to produce but to reshape FreshCo’s entire produce culture. Embodying values such as quality, seasonality, and a distinct cultural identity, Phoenix aimed to foster customer loyalty through the fresh department.

LESSONS LEARNED

A few key lessons stand out that could serve as valuable advice for women contemplating a career in this dynamic field.

Embrace Change with Confidence:

The produce industry is a constantly evolving landscape, and adaptability is key, knowing each challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow. Be open to new experiences and approaches, and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.

Build Strong Networks and Seek Mentorship: These are crucial aspects of career development. Connect with professionals in the industry who can provide guidance and support. Seek out mentors who can share insights, offer advice, and help navigate the unique challenges of the produce sector.

Continuous Learning is the Key: Stay curious and committed to continuous learning. Staying informed about the latest trends, technologies, and practices is essential. Pursue relevant training, attend industry events, and be proactive in expanding your knowledge base.

Confidence in Decision-Making: Trust your instincts and have confidence in your decision-making abilities. Your unique perspective as a woman in the produce industry is an asset.

Create a Supportive Work Environment: Foster a work environment that promotes inclusivity and supports the growth of everyone on the team. Encourage collaboration, celebrate diversity, and advocate for equal opportunities.

Be a Champion for Diversity: Advocate for inclusivity in hiring practices, mentorship programs, and leadership roles. Our voice and perspective as women contribute to a richer, more innovative industry.

By embracing these lessons, I believe women can navigate the exciting and challenging terrain of the produce industry, contributing to its growth and shaping the future of this dynamic field!

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MANAGEMENT

KIM CHACKAL

Director of Sales and Marketing, Co-Owner, Equifruit

I got started in produce by manifesting a new sales challenge that would generate positive social impact. Once I met our president Jennie Coleman and learned about the Fairtrade banana company she had acquired the year prior, I put my name forward to lead the commercial side of the business and the rest is history.

In August 2023, I became co-owner of Equifruit, after nine years of pouring my heart and soul into making us one of Canada’s top growing companies. I love hearing my children tell others that I am a “Banana Badass” when they ask about my line of work.

INSPIRATION

Sales can sometimes feel icky; however, there is no guilt in pushing fresh produce, especially Equifruit Fairtrade bananas, which support the livelihood of farmers and break the cycle of generational poverty. As an industry, we are finding innovative ways to drive a healthier lifestyle, for all concerned along our supply chain, from growers in Ecuador, say, right through to our kids here in Canada.

LESSONS LEARNED

Trust your instincts and know your worth. This is still a male-dominated industry and at times, you can be made to feel unqualified. Surround yourself with encouraging, honest people and be a beacon of light to the next generation.

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OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE

Congratulations

Ashley McPhee

Yenifer Rambarran

Ashley McPhee

Procurement Director Bananas, Tropical & Melons

From your colleagues at Loblaw Companies

Loblaw Companies Limited

Yenifer Rambarran

Senior Manager Data Operations – Fresh

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MANAGEMENT

MICHELLE SYMINGTON

Category Manager, Floral, Pattison Food Group

My first after school job was working in the produce department of the newly built PriceSmart Foods store in Cloverdale, and I was lucky enough to be selected for produce and floral. Over my 13 years, I’ve been very fortunate to move through a few different store locations and office roles within the produce department and have loved getting to learn all different sides of this business.

INSPIRATION

I like the pace of this industry. There is never a dull moment in floral. Whether it’s planning events or seasonal programs, it’s always so exciting to see these programs come to life when they arrive in our stores. There’s never a bad day when you’re surrounded by flowers!

My biggest career milestone to date has been my most recent promotion to category manager, floral, in 2023. This was a long-term goal of mine that I was so proud to have achieved sooner than I could have imagined.

LESSONS LEARNED

The best advice I could give to women who are considering a career in produce is to be confident and trust your skills. Find a mentor in the industry who will help you grow. It’s an amazingly diverse field and you can never stop learning – always be open to learning!

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OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE

The Wonderful Company congratulates Leah Hardy on her Outstanding Women in Produce Award

La compagnie Wonderful félicite Leah Hardy pour le prix de femmes étoiles en fruits et legumes

the Wonderful Company

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OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE

Congratulations Kori Martin

Cheers to a true produce powerhouse!

From your biggest fans,

oppy

Expect the world from us

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SALES

ASHLEY MCPHEE

Procurement Category Director, Bananas, Tropical and Melons, Loblaw Companies

I’ve always loved fresh fruits and vegetables, which led me to my first job as a produce clerk at the local grocery store. This invaluable front-line experience drove home the importance of providing customers with the best quality and value to leave a lasting impression. Working my way up to a department manager was the introduction to my real passion of leading and motivating a team.

INSPIRATION

The produce industry is extremely dynamic. You are constantly pivoting from one challenge to the next, which generally reveals the future opportunities for how we grow and get better. With the rapid changes in our climate, the volatility of fresh produce keeps you on your toes and requires a certain level of grit and perseverance at a pace unmatched to any other industry. I think most of us would be bored if we did anything else! Being promoted to director at Loblaw has been a major career milestone for me. Passion meets opportunity where I can lead a team at one of Canada’s largest retailers to develop and execute a procurement strategy focused on value, quality and innovation from over 20 countries around the globe.

LESSONS LEARNED

There are endless opportunities for people to get started in the industry. My best advice would be to start at store level in the produce department and find a mentor willing to share their knowledge of fruits and vegetables. Take on special projects within the store, capitalize on opportunities to network and stay curious by always looking for ways to improve and develop. Once you have that critical foundation, you can look to move up within the store or reach out to contacts on job openings with retailers, wholesalers or growers. Put the work in to build your brand and reputation within the industry and take a lifelong learner approach to every role.

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CONGRATULATIONS

to our very own

Fernanda Albuquerque

PACKAGING DEVELOPMENT MANAGER

for being selected as an honouree for the CPMA and Grocery Business Magazine’s 2024 Outstanding Women in Produce.

Mucci FARMS

MUCCIFARMS.COM

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OPERATIONS

YENIFER RAMBARRAN

Senior Manager, Article Data Operations, Produce Article, Loblaw Companies

My produce journey began at Loblaw Companies, where I supported master data for dry goods and then transitioned to managing master data for the fresh side of the business, including produce. This introduced me to rewarding challenges. A hallmark of my career has been my dedication to data precision and timely product delivery; collaborating with internal stakeholders to devise solutions that uphold data integrity. My proficiency in collaboration and negotiation, combined with a focus on data execution and accuracy, has been instrumental in liaising effectively with diverse groups, such as merchandising, supply chain, and finance. I’ve been pivotal in guiding product data-related decisions, ensuring compliance, and overseeing system execution.

INSPIRATION

Throughout my life, I’ve been graced with the influence of many guiding lights, including mentors, colleagues, and friends. Their wisdom has been pivotal in shaping my professional and personal growth. Above all, my family stands as my greatest source of inspiration. Their unwavering support and encouragement have been instrumental in molding me into my best self, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

LESSONS LEARNED

Embarking on a successful career is akin to a marathon, demanding perseverance and commitment. In a sector known for its volatility and dynamic nature, the key to thriving is adaptability and a commitment to collective growth. The most profound achievements are realized when unity is at the forefront, and every team member is encouraged and enabled to unfold their full potential.

PROVIDING PRODUCE SOLUTIONS

-ACROSS CANADA-

VISIT US AT CPMA VANCOUVER CONVENTION CENTRE BOOTH # 745

TORONTO | CALGARY

goproduce.com

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Congratulations Michelle Symington

and to all of Canada’s Outstanding Women in Produce

Michelle Symington Category Manager, Floral

OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE

Pattison Food Group

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Irrespective of your role, developing a holistic understanding of the business—from the growers to the final consumers—can significantly amplify your contributions to strategic conversations and decisions. This insight can be the catalyst for exceptional outcomes. Therefore, remain inquisitive, embrace new ideas, and foster an environment of continuous learning to deliver unparalleled products to customers.

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MANAGEMENT

JÖELLE BIRON

Director, Central Procurement Produce, Metro

I joined Metro directly in the fruits and vegetables department. My goal was to have a foot in the door at Metro, with the aim being the marketing department. After two unsuccessful attempts to secure a marketing position, I realized my path might lie in the produce sector. Over the past decade, I have climbed the corporate ladder, working alongside colleagues and suppliers who are passionate about their profession. This passion gradually became contagious. While it was not love at first sight, this passion has only grown stronger over time.

INSPIRATION

Nourishing the health and wellbeing of our community is very rewarding. Every day brings a different challenge, keeping our work stimulating and dynamic. While we may start the day with a plan, unexpected circumstances often require us to adjust our priorities, making our work environment highly reactive. We may not be saving lives, but every small decision we make can have a significant impact down the supply chain. We are always looking for new suppliers respecting Canadian regulations, offering sustainable packaging, sourcing locally and new country of origin for product affected by climate change, which adds an exciting dimension to our work.

I deeply enjoy product development; innovation in this field fuels my passion and collaborative spirit with suppliers to meet the evolving needs of our customers. The dynamic nature of the industry, coupled with the opportunity to make a tangible impact, is what I find most fulfilling.

The moment that makes me proudest is when I was promoted to the position of procurement director. At the time of my nomination, I was returning from a one-year maternity leave. This moment not only made me proud of myself, but above all, proud to work for a Quebec based employer that believes in its talent pool and, most importantly, supports the advancement of women into higher positions.

LESSONS LEARNED

Impostor syndrome tends to be a common experience, especially for women in key positions. We must believe in ourselves and stop doubting. I often felt the need for external validation before pursuing opportunities. Throughout my career, I was fortunate to have supportive bosses and teams who believed in me, and if I hadn’t had the chance to work with these wonderful people, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Surrounding yourself with competent people who have a positive attitude is crucial for success. Don’t be afraid to be challenged by your own team and be open to divergent ideas. It allows us to grow as individuals and as managers. Make people realise what their strengths are and encourage them to work on developing their skills.

When I became pregnant for the first time, I feared sidelining my career. With two young children and a fulfilling career, I can attest it’s possible to have both.

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LEADERSHIP

ESTER SATTLER

President and CEO, Fresh Mix

I got started in this industry because of pure boredom with my day job in Europe. I came across a novelty item in Switzerland – fresh-cuts – in 1983. It started with hand-cut lettuces in zip lock bags, stubborn determination, and lots and lots of love for fresh foods in general.

Looking back, it amazes me that we made the very first Caesar Salad Kit for Canada. It’s such a simple and logical product; kind of like sliced bread.

INSPIRATION

I love the pace. Perishables don’t allow for hesitation. Time’s always ticking from the second that plant is cut in the fields. This tends to attract very special kinds of personalities who do not know boredom. And of course, food in general is my passion, and vegetables and salads are delicious, beautiful and healthy.

LESSONS LEARNED

As in any field, it helps tremendously to be knowledgeable not only within your very own niche, but in the industry as a whole. If you talk the talk to impress and be noticed, always, always be prepared to walk the walk. It is a highly competitive playing field, a no-nonsense climate. If you’re the ambitious, passionate type, you’ll probably have a blast!

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BANANA BADASS

Congratulations Kim Chackal on being named an Outstanding Woman in Produce!

CPMAP-ACDFL

EQUIFRUIT

CONVENTION+TRADE SHOW EXPO-CONGREE VANCOUVER 2024

BOOTH #1151

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RECIPIENT OF THE

OUTSTANDING WOMEN IN PRODUCE

Congratulations to all winners

CONGRATULATIONS

Joëlle Biron

Director, Central Procurement – Produce, METRO

metro

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MARKETING

FERNANDA ALBUQUERQUE

Packaging Development Manager, Mucci Farms

Living in a region with a high concentration of greenhouses, it’s hard to avoid working in the produce industry in some capacity. My background prior to starting in produce was in purchasing in an industrial supply setting. I worked with growers and manufacturers to procure supplies for their greenhouses. When I made the move to the produce industry, it was a natural and easy transition. I was responsible for purchasing packaging supplies for the packing of produce. I had the privilege of working with a great team, and I tried to learn whatever I could to prepare myself for the next opportunity. Purchasing offers many challenges; it also offers relationship building with opportunities to innovate in a vibrant industry. The produce industry has offered me a chance to learn about packaging from various angles, from feasibility to technical aspects. It’s been a great ride so far.

INSPIRATION

I enjoy that every day is different, and on any given day, you could be working on multiple projects—you need to think fast and prioritize. I’ve developed a strong network with partners, suppliers, growers, and coworkers. I’ve been involved in attending industry events and trade shows, which has given me the opportunity to network and learn from others. The industry is rapidly evolving and technologically driven, constantly chasing the next innovation in packaging and equipment. With so many moving parts, it takes a sense of partnership to make it all come together. It is global in nature and has offered me the ability to travel to research and seek out packaging from other parts of the world. It has presented me with new skills and perspectives to figure out what will work for us in North America.

LESSONS LEARNED

I stay up to date with what is happening, never to take “no” for an answer and have conviction for what I believe to be the right thing to do. Listen, observe, and learn before you act. Do not be afraid to take initiative and be proactive because this is how you gain experience. Be sure you know what you are talking about, or no one will take you seriously. Having knowledge is having power, and it allows your team members to trust that what you are stating is correct. Don’t be afraid to speak up and tell it like it is. Find a mentor from whom you can learn, even if it’s not in the role you are looking to attain, because all roles are linked. Embrace every challenge until you get to where you want to go. Mentors provide you with support and advice as your career evolves. Get involved in produce specific organizations and working groups, such as those offered by the CPMA, and read industry news and articles. Advocate for yourself and show your team and your company what you want to get out of your career.

The produce industry can be demanding, with long hours and high-pressure situations. Be prepared to face setbacks and obstacles, and use them to develop the resilience needed to overcome them. Do everything you can to find a healthy work-life balance and use all your experiences as growth opportunities.

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SALES

LEAH HARDY

Regional Sales Manager, Wonderful Sales

My produce career officially started in procurement at Loblaw Companies Ltd., after transferring from a data management position for centre of store. While the allure of a shorter commute originally pulled me into the industry, I quickly fell in love with the pace and the people. After briefly leaving for a marketing position in CPG, I jumped at the chance to get back to my produce roots as a sales manager with Wonderful Sales. Produce feels like home.

INSPIRATION

I love the culture and sense of community. It’s a competitive industry, but there’s always been an underlying spirit of collaboration and understanding. It’s not an easy business, but the challenges breed a comradery that’s unique to produce. I’m incredibly proud to have established the WPN (Women’s Produce Network) under the Ontario Produce Marketing Association with my co-chair Amanda Knauff. Watching the network connect so many talented women and industry allies has been inspiring, and one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I’m excited for the future of the WPN (and produce), as these connections help to elevate women and drive stronger representation.

LESSONS LEARNED

Meet and connect with other women. Create an industry circle you can rely on for advice and support. Find a mentor who aligns to your personal, career, and industry aspirations. Don’t be afraid to speak up – your voice is important and your input matters!

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SALES

KORI MARTIN

Sales Manager, Oppy

I started my produce career at Oppy 17 years ago through an internship program for our Los Angelesbased sales office. I am grateful for the growth opportunities here at Oppy. I moved into business development, selling products into a specific territory and driving promotional strategies aligned with our brands. Moving product through the supply chain excited me and I made the decision to move into sales. I expanded into key account management and now serve as sales manager, where I enjoy developing and coaching, while helping implement our strategy overall to meet the expectations of our retail partners and growers.

INSPIRATION

I’m part of a bigger picture of what we do; it’s global economics. We’re feeding and supporting communities around the world with a goal to increase consumption, but we also play an integral role in keeping generations of farmers and growers sustainable. Whatever job you do in this industry, we can all lean into the fact that together we are doing the world’s work.

Giving back to the industry in a volunteer leadership capacity has expanded my education and network outside of my role at Oppy. Serving on the board of directors of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council and as board chair in 2022 through a very challenging season was rewarding; we had to overcome strategic obstacles while keeping our members at the forefront of every difficult decision. You leave your own agenda or corporate hat at the door and collectively work together to advance the organization and move the industry forward. I highly recommend to others to find ways to get more involved, in CPMA, IFPA, or any local trade organization like FPFC, to further your development and strengthen your relationships.

LESSONS LEARNED

My favorite word is “intention.” It is at the core of people’s actions and how they interact with you as a woman in this industry. Avoid over-apologizing for things outside of anyone’s control. Run towards a problem, and don’t avoid the hard conversations or have them too late. We all experience the inevitable nature of the beast in the world of perishables, as we’re highly impacted by weather and global conditions, but those who navigate the setbacks with a solutions-driven approach and keep the long term in mind, thrive. Focus on the solution and not the uncontrollable; it will solve the problem faster and you become a partner and a support rather than an excuse.

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