Materials Management that Keeps Production Moving

Elizabeth Zuniga started with West Pak Avocado in early 2019 as an operations analytics coordinator. She has since earned her way up to Purchasing Manager by stepping up and taking on the responsibilities of the role when the position became available. Since then, Elizabeth has effectively managed the purchasing department keeping the company’s facilities supplied with packaging and able to push product out the door – even during a pandemic and with significant shortages.

Get to know Elizabeth and learn more about her story. Discover how she keeps operations supplied with packaging and moving a steady stream of deliverables to our customers: 

What was your journey to your current role?

I started as the operations analytics coordinator. The purchasing manager left, so I jumped in and grew into the position. You just have to dig into it and do it, so I took the opportunity and just ran with it. There was no database before, so I built it from scratch. I started off covering purchasing here in the United States, mainly in California, then incorporated Dallas. Then I was given Mexico, and now I run purchasing for all West Pak facilities. 

What are your current responsibilities in your role as Purchasing Manager?

I am in charge of all packaging and packaging materials throughout all of our distribution centers in the United States and Mexico. I manage the import of materials, negotiations, contracts, cost savings, and vendor relations. My team does everything except the avocados: the bags, boxes, netting, corner boards, strapping, basically, everything we use to build the pallets. 

What is a typical day like for you?

I would say it is very fast-paced, and there is a lot of problem-solving. We work in a constantly changing industry, so there is a lot of flexibility. The plans are continually evolving by country of origin. For example, suppose we have something packaged in Mexico, and now we need to ship it out of California. In that case, my team needs to be able to accommodate all of the pack/packaging changes throughout our distribution centers. There is a lot of communication with Supply Chain and adjusting orders with our vendors to ensure that we have the material needed to pack the fruit. 

What is the best aspect of your role?

I like the challenge, the culture, the variety, and the collaboration. In my position, I get to work with Mexico and the vendors out there and see how different it is and how negotiations take place in Mexico versus the United States. I work closely with the Supply Chain department to understand our internal plans, but I also work a lot with our suppliers to ensure that we can accommodate everything. Overall, I want to say that the culture is probably my favorite.

What is the most challenging part of what you do?

The constant change is the most challenging, but that’s just the industry. As challenging as it is, it’s also exciting. At the end of the day, if we don’t have the materials, we’re not packing. 

With the market conditions and inflation, it’s been an incredibly challenging year. There are shortages of everything, so I make decisions the best I can while accounting for the costs. It can be difficult, but we’ve done well – we haven’t run out of materials and made it through last year.

How do you incorporate West Pak principles and values into your job?

When I took on the management role, I incorporated the culture and the team environment West Pak has into my management style for my department. I’ve made that a point with the department in the states and Mexico. I feel that we work very closely as a team, so I think culture is very important. 

Do you get to travel to Mexico very often?

Yes, I do. I get to go down twice a year.

What are the best strengths that you bring to your job?

I think I am a problem solver. I work very well under pressure, and that’s when I do my best. I just make decisions that need to be made with very little guidance, and I would say that’s why I have been successful at the position. 

How has West Pak been to work for as a company?

It’s been great; I would say it’s been gratifying. I started as a coordinator, and now I’m a manager, so I definitely have been given an opportunity. It’s been an opportunity, it’s been a challenge, but it’s been rewarding. It’s been a journey.

What is your favorite thing about the company?

The culture, for sure. The people and the work environment are very positive, and I enjoy coming to work. 

If you had to name one thing that has helped you succeed in your position, what would it be?

I believe I have succeeded in my position because I understand the department from the beginning. I got to do the admin and coordinator portions and I kind of built it on my own. As I develop my team as a manager, I know what the job entails because I’ve done it. I feel like going through that whole process has helped me, and I can manage my team effectively, knowing my department so well. I own it in a sense. It’s mine, so I treat it like my baby. 

Tell us one thing about yourself that your co-workers may not know about you.

Actually, I was in a movie when I was five. I can’t even remember the name of it. I think the clip was less than a minute and the film went straight to VCR. 

What do you like to do in your off time?

I am very outdoorsy and very active. I like hiking, surfing, snowboarding, motorcycle riding, and anything outdoors. I could never leave California. We go to the desert to ride our bikes, go to the beach to surf, and during the winter, go to the mountains to snowboard. You can’t do that anywhere else. 

What is your favorite quote or motto?

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.

What is your favorite way to eat/prepare avocados? 

On top of my burgers!

Favorite avocado memorabilia?

I have two avocado blankets that I love.