Despite a 30-year career in the food industry, Jim Richter is more interested in looking forward to the future than looking back into his past.

As executive vice president of sales and marketing for Wilcox Fresh, Rexburg, Idaho, 53-year-old Richter is thankful for his many opportunities and enthusiastic about relating some proud moments.

Jim Richter, Wilcox FreshThose moments include helping to develop the first template for category management, being involved with one of the first retailers in the country to switch to the European-style of produce merchandising and being awarded the 1999 Fresh-Cut Promoter of the Year by the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association.

Richter is also especially thankful for the great produce managers he has worked with during his career at H-E-B, Marsh and Randalls Food Markets.

One aspect of the industry that especially interests Richter is the drive to innovate commodity groups to increase value-added appeal.

“I’m passionate about innovation — developing new products that will add value to the category,” he said.

Richter has noticed a move away from traditional commodity products to more value-added products, such as the increase in popularity of pre-packaged salad mixes over the traditional heads of lettuce.

“I think we’ll continue to see those kinds of innovations drive the industry,” Richter said.

But perhaps his biggest interest is the opportunity to connect with the younger generation of workers in the industry.

“My biggest passion is the leadership and team building I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of,” Richter said.

Some of his fondest memories include seeing co-workers and colleges from various points in his career move on to successful positions of leadership.

“It’s exciting for me to work with them in the early part of their careers, and then see them grow and develop,” he said.

Lynn Wilcox, president of Wilcox Fresh, has seen Richter in this mentor role inside their company and within the industry.

“He’s very passionate about helping younger people in the business and teaching them the basic fundamentals they’ll need to be successful,” Wilcox said, noting Richter’s goal to help encourage college students to enter the produce industry.

Currently serving on the foundation board for the Produce Marketing Association, Richter said he believes setting the stage for the next generation is critical to the long-term success of the industry.

He is pleased with the training programs offered by PMA for all career levels, from entry to executive training. He especially appreciates the opportunity for college students to be partnered with industry professionals who show them around PMA events and introduce them to others in the industry.

“You’re getting to really help them see the people side of our business, and I’ve been glad to participate and be a part of that,” he said.