Susie Rea is a highly successful bilingual sales professional with 20+ years of experience and strong produce industry relationships. She has built programs from the ground up and has in-depth industry knowledge of both the grower and the retail sides.
How many years have you been in the produce industry?
Susie: 22 years with the last two (since July 2018) at West Pak.
Why are you passionate for avocados?
Susie: With avocados, there’s such a lot of hype right now. With all of the health benefits and the healthy fat of avocados, it’s a nice trendy item. Everybody around me is very excited about them, and it’s no wonder why…they’re a lot of fun!
What is your role at West Pak?
Susie: To laugh…(no, really)!
My primary function at West Pak is sales and business development. I work with major retailers in regions across the United States including the West Coast, Texas, and the Midwest, and covering various markets. I have a pretty extensive background in produce and doing a lot of multitasking. A lot of the companies that I worked for didn’t have as many employees to handle each department, so I was always cross-trained and took on more than just sales. I did everything from logistics to purchasing, which are excellent skills to have. Also, I’m bilingual, so I have worked a lot with Mexico. West Pak is growing so fast and is using my knowledge and insight to help tweak programs and make sure processes even more efficient.
What are you most excited to see in the future of produce innovation?
Susie: I love the new packaging that we are coming up with, like with Lil’Cados, I Love Avocados, and all of the new organic brands – I love that. It’s something very different on the retail shelves. Until now, retail has been primarily loose bulk avocados or a generic green mesh bag. With I Love Avocados, for example, we have recipes and quick health tips on the back of the packaging, and the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check designation on the front, which is what people really want to see.
Our branded bags are also less pressure on the retailers, as they kind of sell themselves. Anytime we can sell the retailers a product that has marketing information on it, (recipes and tips on the back, etc.) that’s just less work for them. In fact, the more that we have to bring to the table, the better. When all we do is just give them raw products, then they have to come up with a lot more to push the product out.
Avocados are such a growing category for retailers that it’s no longer just their Cinco de Mayo or Super Bowl ad push, but they are promoting avocados all year round now. And that’s something very new for them – in a good way!
Moving forward, we have to stay fresh with different marketing and promotions, which keeps us a step above what just any supplier is doing. It makes us stand out a little bit. We have to stay on-trend with these pack styles and bring it to the retailers, as they are not always going to come to us. It’s really “first to the table.”
It’s just fun seeing our brands on the shelf. I’ll go to Target for example, and I’ll see people holding some of our packaging, and I’ll go up to them and give them little tips and point out the recipes. It’s fun to see our stuff out there. I love that aspect of packaging where it just really puts our brand on it. It’s more pride than anything, I guess.
How has the Heart-Check designation been received?
Susie: The Heart-Check designation is not something that gets us kicked out of the door if we don’t have it; however, it’s just another one of those pieces that adds value. Many people do not know all of the health benefits of avocados, but as society continues to become more conscientious of what they are buying and what’s on the shelf, this designation will be even more of a bonus for retailers.
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s PMA Fresh Summit?
Susie: At PMA, I always like the new showcase in the front because it really tells where the market is going. I love seeing all the new packaging as it gives me some new ideas to bring home to work with what we do for specific retailers to help them change it up. It’s always on-trend. That’s like a highlight for me.
I like to see how West Pak is being perceived at the show. It’s also pretty significant to be there and to be out in front of people too. Some of these people you talk to for a year or two on the phone, and you finally get to meet them face to face. That’s what makes it exciting, even if it’s just that one person that you wanted to meet.
The hype of the show is excellent too. It’s terrific to see everybody in the industry. It’s always nice to realize that everybody has some of the same challenges. Yes, we’re all competing against each other, but we’re also all going through the growing pains of the industry, and you think ‘okay, I’m not on an island by myself.’ It kind of ties you in and makes you realize that this industry is massive. There is also so much potential for growth – huge potential.
Want to know more about Susie? Visit her LinkedIn profile or contact her, below! Make sure to stop by to see her at PMA Fresh Summit October 18-20, 2018 in Orlando at booth #3653.