Fragoso
Fragoso

Were it not for a brutal Indiana snow storm, the fresh produce industry may never have heard of Emily Fragoso, a young, rising star in marketing.

It was just such a winter storm that was the last straw for her parents, who elected to abandon the Midwest in favor of sunny California. It was a fortuitous relocation for Fragoso, who now is the newly named director of business development for the South Pasadena, Calif.-based consulting firm, Status Gro.

Since graduating from Cal State-Fullerton in 2001, Fragoso’s career has been on a distinctly upward path. Having worked part time during her college years coordinating a variety of events for the city of Brea, Calif., Fragoso planned a relaxing postgraduation summer.

Those plans came to an abrupt halt when Fragoso interviewed for a marketing position with the La Mirada, Calif.-based Fresh Produce & Floral Council. The job was hers before the end of the day.

“It was a great fit,” Fragoso said, while admitting her exposure to fresh produce had been limited to the family table.

That table offered a bit of a fresh produce primer because of Fragoso’s parents’ mixed ethnic background: her father is Thai, her mother is Polish. The members of the FPFC provided even more fresh produce tutoring.

“Everyone is wonderful,” Fragoso said. “You can learn so much. They’re all willing to wrap their arms around you and give you a ton of tips.”

Those tutors have become lifelong friends, she said.

“They are what has kept me in the fresh produce industry,” Fragoso said.

Among those tutor/friends who were particularly helpful, she said, was Jack Gyben, vice president of Progressive Produce Corp., Commerce, Calif.

As a member of the board of directors, Gyben worked closely with Fragoso during her years with the FPFC, he said.

“Emily is full of energy and ideas,” Gyben said. “We were very happy to have her represent the entire fresh produce industry.”

At the turn of the century, Fragoso was aware that she was entering an industry that was dominated by men, but an industry in which more and more women were capturing prominent positions. Those emerging women were role models for Fragoso.

“When you see other female leaders, it kept me motivated as I saw wonderful examples, and they showed me that I could forge my own way,” Fragoso said.

Among the women who Fragoso sought to emulate was Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission, Irvine. The two have worked on assorted projects over the years. DeLyser was impressed.

“She is a great thinker, open to new ideas with exceptional enthusiasm and passion for fresh fruit and vegetable consumption,” DeLyser said. “Emily represents a new generation of excellence in produce marketing.”

Also apparently impressed by Fragoso’s efforts at the FPFC was Jin Ju Wilder, then president of Coast Produce Co., Los Angeles. Wilder lured Fragoso away from the council in 2007 to become marketing manager at Coast Produce.

The new position opened new challenges — and fun — for Fragoso, she said.

“I was able to work on new business projects as manager or team leader and start things from the ground up,” she said. “I love being project based.”

Wilder cast her lure for Fragoso again in March, asking her to join Wilder’s new consulting firm, Status Gro.

Leaving Coast removes the luxury of marketing tangibles — as in fresh produce — and returns Fragoso to marketing a concept. She sees little difference.

“Even when I was selling products, I was still selling concepts,” Fragoso said. “Locally grown, for instance, is not necessarily a product. It’s about a feeling; it’s connection and authenticity.”

The move to the consulting firm does not mean leaving fresh produce in her wake. Status Gro is seeking clients with familiar products.

“We will focus generally on produce specifically,” Fragoso said. “We won’t rule out other opportunities, but only if it’s a good match.”

Marketing is not the only challenge facing Fragoso these days.

“I’ll be running my second half-marathon in June,” she said.

It seems there was a hidden benefit in the family’s long-ago relocation: training for long-distance running events is difficult during Indiana snowstorms.