The face of West Pak on the East Coast, Scott Ross is the Eastern Regional Sales Manager. He brings over 30 years of retail food and produce sales and merchandising experience to the company, including 15 years working in produce category management.
How many years have you been in the produce industry?
Scott: When I was 12, my dad told me to get a job, so I started working at a six-acre farm across the street from my house. There wasn’t a big window for growing crops in northern Delaware, so in the winter the gentleman who owned the farm would supplement his income by selling firewood. We would work all winter chopping down or removing large trees, splitting them into firewood and delivering to people’s houses. Needless to say, I learned a really good work ethic very early on.
By 1983 I was working at a roadside farm market. We would buy off the Philly market in the morning, truck it back, set up our displays, and sell it. At the end of a 10-hour shift, we’d pack it all up and do it all over again the next day.
Around 1990 I took an entry-level produce department job with a regional retailer, Genuardi Family Markets. Over a few years, I worked my way from the store up into corporate. I held the position of Senior Category Manager Produce for several years. In 2000, the company was bought out, and the new owners dismantled the produce team. From there I ended up working on the supply side. In my various roles since, I have represented many produce items and categories, including avocados.
I started with West Pak in April of 2017. So, the short answer is 35 years as an adult.
Why are you passionate for avocados?
Scott: Many reasons. Personally, I love avocados – we enjoy them in our home every day. Secondly, avocados are just on fire – there is not a hotter item in the produce department currently. So, the opportunity to work in an exciting, growing and dynamic category appeals to me. It opens doors, there’s never a dull moment, and there’s a massive opportunity for growth. There’s some innovation going on with packaging, and the organic side of the category is healthy and set for continued growth. To have an opportunity to be in something that’s got such energy, that’s on trend, growing like crazy yet still has a tremendous opportunity to continue to grow, is exciting and rewarding.
In my days as a produce manager, I remember the traditional avocado display consisting of about 18 pieces of fruit. Now when visiting retailers throughout the country, you see substantial merchandising efforts utilizing multiple displays throughout the store, as well as bags. So, avocados have become a powerhouse produce item and embraced at retail. Despite the success, there remains continued potential for added sales and profit. I love to see that!
At West Pak, I’m excited about the new bag brands we’re gearing up to launch. I have been lucky enough to present them at both the organic show in Monterey as well as at Southern Innovations in Nashville. The initial response to these new brands has been overwhelmingly positive. Our new offerings are right in line with current trends and target them very well. I’m excited to have some added tools in my arsenal to go out and generate some new business for West Pak.
What is your role at West Pak?
Scott: I am responsible for identifying and developing new customers in the eastern United States. I represent West Pak at regional and national food shows, as well as some internal retail shows for some of our customers. I enjoy being the face of West Pak in the eastern U.S.
I don’t focus on any single segment of the industry, but primarily my efforts are bringing on new retail customers because it’s where we do our best work. Retailers are generally more profitable customers, moving consistent and sometimes heavy volume. Retail is also where the most significant opportunity is for us to differentiate ourselves because of the service level, quality, and consistency we can provide.
In addition, I perform business reviews, provide category management reviews/planning and work hard to strengthen and maintain relationships. Sometimes we partner with the various avocado boards such as Avocados from Mexico and Avocados from Peru where we can combine efforts in approaching customers with marketing and merchandising opportunities/solutions.
I have a background in category management, so I can sit down with a customer and review category information to identify trends that they may not be taking full advantage of. This skill set allows me to strengthen any relationship. When we can bring category knowledge to a customer, identify opportunities and then provide solutions, we now have become a true partner.
What are you most excited to see in the future of produce innovation?
Scott: I’m frustrated when it comes to the produce consumption trends we have experienced over the years. While the opportunity to increase consumption seems tremendous, it has remained flat for some time.
I am on the United Produce Marketing and Merchandising Council where we examine industry opportunities and consider how United can help. On the merchandising side, we’re trying to determine if our council can challenge the retail industry to begin to move the needle when it comes to increasing consumption. This presents a considerable challenge.
Currently, the retail industry is generally focused on controlling cost/labor rather than having well-staffed departments with good quality/trained people. The produce department is the most profitable in the store and customers who buy a lot of produce also shop along the various highly profitable perimeter departments. The opportunity to drive people into the produce department and turn them into better users and more profitable and more well-educated customers is enormous. The industry has got to step and focus on being better sellers and committed advocates to drive produce consumption.
It’s not really an innovation, but more of a hope for a renewed approach. I would like to see a focus on educating both customers and department personnel as to what they should be buying/selling and why. Produce departments, and their respective marketing teams need to work more closely internally as well as with well-equipped suppliers like West Pak.
At West Pak, we’ve got an excellent avocado supply and conditioning program. Our AVO-opportunities marketing program is designed to give retailers support to help educate and sell. Combined, providing consistently good quality fruit and developing targeted marketing and merchandising efforts are proven to drive sales, but they are currently underutilized.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s PMA Fresh Summit?
Scott: I always look forward to the opportunity to network with both our potential and current customers. It’s also valuable and interesting to review what our industry competitors are highlighting at the show. Spending time with the California Avocado Commission and the Avocados From Mexico teams is also time well spent as we look forward to the year’s new programs.
We’ve got a lot of excellent opportunities in the works right now, so interaction with those potential opportunities always creates excitement. A lot of industry buyers will be coming by to take a look at our new bag concepts and meet the entire team. Being such a relationship-based industry, I believe that a lot of what pushes things over the finish line is having a good feeling about who you are partnering up with – the people and the culture. I think we’ve got something extraordinary at West Pak.
Being able to bring somebody to the booth at PMA, to get to meet them face to face, shake their hands and get to know each other a little bit while showing what we have new to offer for the coming year – that’s what I look forward to most!
Want to know more about Scott? Visit him on Linkedin or schedule a meeting with Scott, below! Make sure to stop by to see him at PMA Fresh Summit October 18-20, 2018 in Orlando at booth #3653.