WASHINGTON — The United Fresh Produce Association will honor Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of River Point Farms, Hermiston, Ore., at its annual convention May 5-7 in Las Vegas.
While United Fresh's annual Women in Produce reception honors all women working in the produce industry, the event spotlights, and pays special tribute to, one industry leader. This year that leader is Smith, and she will be the featured speaker at the reception, set for 5 to 6 p.m. Monday, May 5, at Islander A/F rooms at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
Smith was named CEO of River Point Farms — the country's largest grower, shipper, packer and processor of onions — in October 2007 after serving as president of the deli/prepared foods division of Taylor Farms, Salinas, Calif., one of the largest fresh-cut vegetable suppliers in the United States. There, Smith said, she gained experience dealing with supermarket retail as well as with the foodservice industry. Prior to that, Smith served as president of Pacific Pre-Cut Produce for 10 years before the company was acquired by Taylor Farms in 2005.
Smith worked at National Pre-Cut Produce in the early days of the bagged salad industry, from 1993 to 1995, focusing on sales and marketing, where she said she learned the operations side of the fresh-cut business. Before moving to Salinas in 1993, she worked at United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, and now serves on United Fresh's board of directors. She has also served on the USDA Fruit & Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.
Smith told SN last week that she's delighted to have been chosen by United Fresh this year. “It's certainly an honor,” she said. “And I have the good fortune of being friends of, and associated with, many of the women who have previously been recognized [by United]. So I'm thrilled to be recognized in their company.”
Smith credits her early experience working at United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association for giving her a jump start in the industry.
“Right out of college, I went to work for United as manager of their division services,” Smith told SN. “So I interfaced with a lot of our membership and had the tremendous opportunity early in my career of getting to know people, networking with leaders in the industry who are still affiliated and active. I'm fortunate I can still call them friends and associates.”
Smith pointed out that while working at United, she was able early on to see up close what the organization does for the industry.
“Their government relations and their advocacy for our industry is just unparalleled,” Smith said. “I was, and still am, impressed by the commitment level and caliber of the people on that team.”
That's one reason, she said, that she now serves on United Fresh's board of directors. “I just believe strongly in the good work the organization does for the industry.”
Smith didn't always think that she'd make her career in the produce industry. In fact, she graduated from University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in political science.
“I majored in political science because I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, but produce drew me right back in. It's in my blood.”
Smith was born and raised in the business. “My family are third-generation growers, shippers and marketers of potatoes, onions and apples.”
The family business, Skone & Connors, is based in Warden, Wash., near where Smith was raised, in Eastern Washington's Columbia Basin region.
Looking back at the various steps in her produce career, Smith said there have been so many satisfying jobs and endeavors that it would be difficult to pinpoint one particular highlight. “I just love doing what I do every day,” she said.
The upcoming reception, sponsored by Driscoll's and D'Arrigo Bros. of New York, is open to all United Fresh convention attendees.