(Sept. 22) PLACENTIA, Calif.— Recruiting from outside of the produce industry, a leading California strawberry grower-shipper hopes the addition of a baking industry veteran as its chief operating officer will help it better serve its retail customers.

Ed Haft joined Sunrise Growers Inc., as the new COO Sept. 13.

Haft, 44, has more than 17 years of business development, finance, marketing and sales experience for Sara Lee Baking, St. Louis.

Doug Circle, Sunrise’ president and chief executive officer, said Haft’s marketing and supply chain expertise in the perishable side of the bakery industry will help Sunrise expand its retail and foodservice customer partnerships.

“It’s an opportunity for us to learn the supply chain side of other industries and how they approach things,” Circle said.

“He will bring some new innovation to our space and help us build our customers’ business.”

Haft said he views the produce industry as becoming more sophisticated in the way it markets its products.

“Sunrise has gone through a huge amount of growth,” he said. “It’s a matter of bringing a little more customer partnership and orientation and product innovation to the business.”

At Sara Lee, Haft helped expand the company into the fresh baked goods category and helped develop new products in its retail, in-store bakery and foodservice divisions.

Haft is the third Sara Lee worker to start working for a produce company in six months.

In January, Grimmway Farms, Bakersfield, hired Phil Gruszka to be its vice president of marketing. Also in the spring, Steven Blaha joined Sunfarm Food Service, St. Louis, as comptroller.

In March, Sunrise hired Christine Reker to head its marketing. Reker formerly worked for Dole Food Co., and Chiquita Brands International.

Baking exec takes Sunrise Growers COO post