Joining the sales team at West Pak in October, just prior to IFPA’s Global Produce & Flower Show in Orlando, Florida, is Jennifer Zendejas. As the new Director of Sales & Business Development, she is excited about the new opportunity where she can take her passion for avocados to a new level. Here’s what Jennifer had to say about her experience in the industry, her takeaways about West Pak, and what she hopes to accomplish in business development for the company.
Tell us about your background in the industry.
JZ: I have worked in the retail landscape for 15+ years. My first job was at 16, bagging groceries at a local grocery store, and I later progressed to working for a produce distributor for about five years. After college, I was a category manager with a retailer, where I managed data analytics and private label development. That’s where my retail experience really took hold, and my passion for the industry skyrocketed. For the past eight years, I have been on the broker side of the business.
I held positions at all different levels, which gave me perspective over the years and lots of ability to understand the different business entities and how they all work together, allowing me to work well with teams at all levels.
How did you get your start in the industry?
JZ: I was raised in Riverside, California and Ralphs Fresh Fare was the high-end grocery store in the area. I told my dad I wanted to work for Ralphs, but they said they didn’t hire anybody in high school. I had my sights set that I wanted to work there, so I got letters of recommendation from my high school teachers, and Ralphs eventually gave me a job bagging groceries. I was the only high school student that they ever hired. I also worked as a cashier and in the bakery and service deli departments. It was a great experience to get that retail, ground-level insight into what stores deal with, but I knew I wanted more.
You mentioned college. Where did you attend, and what did you study?
JZ: I graduated from California State San Bernardino with a bachelor’s in Communication.
Explain your role with West Pak.
JZ: My role is understanding and partnering with retailers West Pak doesn’t currently work with. It’s new business development: looking at those markets and opportunities that retailers have to carry items they are not presently carrying, how to merchandise those items, and what the opportunity gap is worth to them.
That’s where my category management experience comes in, where I can put myself back in the shoes of the retailer I once was. On this side, I think let’s educate, let’s help, let’s partner, let’s teach retailers something and help them grow their category. Help them understand their consumer. That’s what I’m so passionate about – understanding the consumer, collaborating with the retailer, and being a resource and a voice for them. I love that!
What strengths do you feel that you bring to West Pak?
JZ: Passion, collaboration, and thinking outside of the box. Analyzing what best-in-class retailers are doing and helping our partners understand what they could do differently to capture their fair share of the market. Also, data analytics – digging in and seeing what the story is, teaching the retailer about the consumer, what the data says, and how they can make more money for the category. It’s a win for everybody.
How is West Pak as a company to work for?
JZ: I had the opportunity to meet with all the teams: sourcing, planning, production, quality assurance, transportation, and marketing. I found that everyone is incredibly passionate about their work. Everyone is extremely helpful, and the collaboration that takes place among all the departments is top-notch. It’s the best I have ever experienced, and I feel privileged to be a part of this team.
What do you look forward to most with your new position?
JZ: The partnerships and collaboration with the retailers, and to be a resource for them to foster success and grow together.
What’s an average workday or week for you?
JZ: Understanding what’s going on in the market as it relates to avocados, sharing that information with the retailers, strategizing on sizes, promotions, merchandising, and looking at the trends and helping them see opportunities to do things a little differently. I’m looking for opportunities for education, partnering, and strategizing.
How do you incorporate West Pak principles and values into your job?
JZ: West Pak is customer obsessed, and I am one hundred percent customer obsessed too. It’s all about partnering and collaborating.
Why West Pak?
JZ: I am obsessed with avocados!! I wanted to do something that I love and to have passion behind the purpose. Something I really believed in. I was looking for that next thing, and I didn’t know what that was going to be. I just knew that I love produce, and when this opportunity presented itself, it was that aha moment for me. I feel like it’s the perfect merger between taking my past experience and layering on top of it an opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
When I initially met the West Pak executive team, I immediately connected with them and felt like this was my destiny – my purpose. With all of the things I have learned along the way, I’ve been looking for that opportunity to do something that really is important to me and that I feel makes a difference.
I get up every day, and I love what I do. I found a really amazing team, and I’m so thankful.
What is your experience on the sales side?
JZ: I’ve managed regional sales and business development in the West but have not had the opportunity nationally until now. That was an opportunity where West Pak’s executive leaders said, “We are going to work with you. We’re going to teach you, we’re going to help you grow,” and I love that, and I feel like we can learn from each other. I feel like it’s an amazing partnership for us to be connected the way we did.
Tell us about yourself that your co-workers may not know about you.
JZ: After college, I was trying to figure out “what I wanted to be when I grew up.” I worked in the legal industry as a paralegal. After a few years, I realized – NOPE – this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life!! I found my way back into the food industry and into retail. It’s like those roots brought me back in. I didn’t think food was something I would do for a career, but here I am, and I love it!!
What do you like to do in your spare time?
JZ: I love to spend time with my husband and two boys. We’re at the baseball field, hiking as a family, fishing, and adventuring – we love being outdoors.
What’s your favorite way to eat avocados?
JZ: I love avocados on my salad and, of course, chips and guac.
Do you have a favorite piece of avocado memorabilia?
JZ: I love my avocado flask. I keep it on my desk as I try to get my daily water intake. It’s happy avocados right in my face!