What: Reception Honoring Women in Produce
When: Monday, May 7, 4:30-6 p.m.
Where: Customer Hospitality Lounge, Marketplace Expo Hall, McCormick Place
WASHINGTON — The United Fresh Produce Association will honor Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing, California Avocado Commission (CAC), at its Marketplace show, May 5-8, in Chicago.
While United'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, and as this year's honoree, DeLyser will deliver the featured address at the reception, which is set for 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Monday, May 7, at the customer hospitality lounge located in the Fresh Marketplace Expo Hall at McCormick Place Convention Center. The event is open to all show attendees.
“I feel very honored. Recognition like this gives me the opportunity to reflect on my experience in the course of my careers in produce,” DeLyser told SN earlier this month.
DeLyser's experience in the industry has indeed spanned several careers.
With a degree from the University of Kansas' school of journalism, DeLyser began her association with the produce industry more than 30 years ago as a writer for a trade magazine. There she also had an introduction to selling advertising.
But while on assignment in East Lansing, Mich., she got stranded in a snowstorm. Being snowbound for days in Michigan represented a turning point, a big one, in DeLyser's career, she said.
Soon after that, she took a job with the Fresh Produce Council and moved to California. As a volunteer leader there, she said she gained experience in consensus-building and making things happen — experience that would serve her well throughout the next years.
“I believe that you learn from each person you deal with as you go along, and then adjust what you've learned to your own particular style,” DeLyser said.
Before joining the California Avocado Commission in 1998, DeLyser worked for a produce distributor, a grower/shipper and a broker, holding leadership positions in each job.
“I feel that each position I've held has given me a natural progression in the industry,” she said.
Her path to her current position at the CAC embodied a coincidental series of events.
“By all rights, I should be selling wheat, since I spent most of my early years in Kansas,” DeLyser said.
But the variety of experience she gained with a number of commodities prepared her for her leadership positions at the CAC.
“While I was at Westlake, selling avocados, I was told the California Commission was looking to expand its staff.”
She applied there and subsequently joined the CAC as marketing director for the Southwest region, with corporate account responsibility for Kroger and Safeway.
Within two years, DeLyser was promoted to vice president of merchandising, which broadened her responsibilities to overseeing the CAC's merchandising programs nationally.
In 2003, she was promoted again, this time to vice president of marketing. In that position, her management responsibilities were expanded to include consumer advertising, merchandising, public relations, nutrition, food service and Web relations.
Most recently she has been appointed to the Hass Avocado Board, a federal entity with a checkoff program for promotion and marketing of both California and imported Hass avocados.
In that capacity, DeLyser continues to work for California growers, but also is hard at work building the Hass avocado brand, no matter the origin of the crop, she said.
“We're focused on building demand, and meeting that demand” year-round, DeLyser pointed out. There is no conflict between locally grown avocado producers and producers in other countries, she said. “We use the strength of each during its season, working together.”
DeLyser's team works with retailers to keep Hass avocados readily available to their customers.
“We urge them to maintain prime display locations, which has a big effect on sales,” she said.
Working up and down the industry, DeLyser said, the most challenging aspect of her job is also the most enjoyable. And that is selling — selling ideas and concepts as well as commodities and brands. One concept she's selling now is the importance of a ripe avocado.
DeLyser is a strong proponent of ripe programs because she said she knows absolutely that shipper-direct, ripe avocado programs are a key factor in building big sales. She said she can demonstrate that.
“With one retailer in Southern California, we were able to show sales went up three times with a ripe program,” she said.
“We're seeing more and more suppliers offering avocados at the stage of ripeness the retailer wants them.”
DeLyser told SN that her address at the Women in Produce reception will focus on the opportunities that exist in the produce industry, and how the opportunities she has taken advantage of have helped advance her career.
She pointed out that there is much more real opportunity for women in the industry than there was several years ago.
“In the mid-'70s, I'd be at conventions and look around and see no more than 5% to 10% women there. Now, I don't know what the percentage is, but I can tell you the growth has been tremendous.”
DeLyser said she was surprised to be honored by United this year, because there are so many leaders worthy of such recognition.
“There are so many men and women who work hard on behalf of the industry that it is truly humbling to be recognized among such exceptional leaders,” DeLyser said at the time United announced it would honor her.
Previous United Fresh honorees are: Maureen Torrey Marshall, Torrey Farms, Elba, N.Y.; Martha Roberts, Florida Department of Agriculture, Tallahassee; Frieda Caplan, Frieda's, Los Alamitos, Calif.; Rosemary Talley, Talley Farms, Arroyo Grande, Calif.; Jan Fleming, Strube Celery & Vegetable Co., Chicago; Kathleen Nave, California Table Grape Commission, Fresno, Calif.; Tonya Antle, Earthbound Farm, San Juan Bautista, Calif.; Janice Honigberg, Sun Belle, Melrose Park, Ill.; Jenney Tenney, Kroger, Cincinnati; and Margaret D'Arrigo, D'Arrigo Bros. of California, Salinas, Calif.