(Feb. 12) Two months into his duties up North as chairman of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Wayne McKnight plans to pick up some new responsibilities down South as a Wal-Mart vice president.

McKnight, 46, will become Wal-Mart’s vice president of global procurement for food, a new position, on March 22. The industry veteran left his former job as vice president of produce and floral for Sobeys Inc., Toronto, on Feb. 9.

Officials at CPMA, McKnight said, have supported his decision, but a conference call was scheduled Feb. 13 to discuss the transition. McKnight planned to remain chairman of the association.

Phone calls to Danny Dempster, CPMA president, and Ron Lemaire, CPMA executive vice president, were not returned.

As the procurement vice president at Wal-Mart, McKnight said he would lead the development of an appropriate model for global commerce, but he said details of the position would be worked out in coming months.

McKnight started in the produce business in 1975. He was a vice president at Sobeys for more than five years, and has worked for Agora Food Merchants, Etobicoke, Ontario; and Co-op Atlantic, Moncton, New Brunswick.

In addition to his responsibilities with the Ottawa-based CPMA, McKnight also has been a director for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., for more than two years.

Though McKnight said he has asked the CPMA executive committee to examine his career move, he plans to continue with the association in the same capacity. He said six of the eight officials who were to participate in the Feb. 13 conference call had showed verbal support for his decision.

“The issues that I’ll be dealing with in CPMA are critically important to the Canadian marketplace, as all of North America,” he said. “If anything, this may allow me to be able to bridge the gap with trading partners around the globe much easier.”

McKnight officially became CPMA chairman the first week of February, in line with the association’s annual convention and trade show. He made the decision to leave Sobeys that week.

Sobeys is now on a search to find McKnight’s successor.

“With me leaving they are a very, very strong team still, and I think that they won’t have to look very far — there are people that are already groomed for doing that,” he said.

Joe Sbrocchi, national director of produce procurement for Sobeys, agreed that an employee within the company might take over McKnight’s former position. Sbrocchi is now interim vice president of produce and floral.

Sbrocchi said McKnight’s contributions would be missed.

“I’ve never worked with a man that is as intelligent — able to take great visions and bring them to pieces that people can work with and move forward on,” Sbrocchi said.

Though he plans to live in Bentonville, Ark., where Wal-Mart is based, McKnight said it wouldn’t be difficult to meet his obligations at the CPMA.

Unlike past chairmen, who have served for one year, McKnight’s term will be extended three months, as the CPMA’s annual February convention and trade show has been moved to May in 2005.
Officials at Wal-Mart were not available for comment.