(Jan. 26) BOSTON — Even in retirement, Warren Hutchins likely will be as active as ever.

That is, as he puts it, “the only way I know how to be.”

The only difference, apparently, is that in retirement, Hutchins, 59, now will have “time to enjoy life.”

Hutchins stepped down as vice president of product development and supply management for The Ground Round effective Jan. 1, ending a 22-year tenure with the Braintree-based restaurant chain and a 38-year career in the food industry. Hired as his successor was Kevin Young, who had served as Hutchins’ assistant for the past several years.

But even with that move, Hutchins remains a presence with the company.

“I’m on retainer with them for a year,” he said. “Maybe I’ll go in one day a week, but I have a house in New Hampshire, where I’ve set up an office. With the magic of telephones and the Internet, you really can be anywhere and do your job.”

Hutchins, a Portsmouth, N.H., native, has been described as something of a magical presence in the produce industry.

FORMER PMA CHAIRMAN

Hutchins accepted the responsibilities of chairman of the board of the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association — the first foodservice executive so honored with that elected position — in 1995, during a pivotal point in PMA’s history.

Longtime president Bob Carey had announced his retirement that same year, after 38 years in office, and the association’s executive committee suddenly found itself confronting the daunting task of finding a successor.

Hutchins, an 11-year PMA veteran — he was the first chairman of the association’s foodservice division — led the hunt to find a replacement for Carey.

Along came Bryan Silbermann, who emerged from a pool of more than 100 candidates. Silbermann has served as PMA president since 1996.

“I was smart enough to sign Bryan’s contract as president,” Hutchins said. “He was the ideal candidate for that position.”

FRESH PRODUCE ACADEMY

Hutchins’ other contributions to PMA programs are, perhaps, less visible but more important. He was chief architect of the association’s Fresh Produce Academy, as well as its Fresh Tech produce technology conference.

“It was at a board meeting where we were talking about challenges of the industry and realizing that our industry needed more education in how to apply technology,” Hutchins said. “So, we bit off that concept.”

Hutchins also applied technology to training in his PMA role. The association, in the mid-1990s, launched a computer-based training program geared toward the employees of supermarket produce departments.

PMA also invested $175,000 to digitize its library of materials, a move Hutchins believed strongly that would facilitate the design of future programs.

Silbermann said Hutchins viewed the industry as a mosaic, with no piece any more valuable than another.

“So often, we think of ourselves as, ‘Gee, we’re the universe,’” Silbermann said. “Warren would say that you’re actually a small piece of this very large pie, and that forced us to think about where we fit into the large scheme of things. He didn’t mean that in a negative way. If you’re a certain part of the pie, you need a distribution system that doesn’t cause headaches. He was very good at getting people to seeing the big picture.”

PRODUCE PROPONENT

Hutchins arrived at The Ground Round in 1982, as the chain was embarking on a change in its business approach.

“We were evolving a concept from bar with food into a restaurant that has a lounge. During that period of time, we focused entirely onto food,” he said.

Hutchins is credited with introducing more produce-centered items onto the chain’s core menu.

Now, all of that behind him, Hutchins said he will have time to spend with his wife of 25 years, Mary.

TO REMAIN INVOLVED IN INDUSTRY

But, he says, he will remain active as an industry consultant and teacher.

He is a guest lecturer at the Southern New Hampshire University of Manchester and Johnson & Wales University of Providence, R.I., both of which place strong emphasis on the hospitality business.

Hutchins, who has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Maine-Orono, also said he would like to continue to contribute to PMA’s mission.

“There will be opportunities that I can help,” he said. “And, now, having more flexibility of timing helps a lot.”

Silbermann said he would warmly welcome Hutchins’ expertise.

“He has an interest in maybe being involved in some training issues that we’re involved with,” Silbermann said. “He was always very supportive of the Fresh Produce Academy, and I know Warren would love to get his hands dirty with that again over the next couple of years as that expands.”

Ground Round VP, champion of produce, retires
HUTCHINS