(Updated coverage, 4:21 p.m., March 10) Ralph “Pete” Purcell, a longtime produce consultant and sales seminar leader, died March 8. He was 88.

Purcell ran his consultancy, Overland Park, Kan.-based Can-Mex-U.S. Corp., from the early 1970s to 2009, said his daughter, Judy Purcell-Pittman. He was The Packer’s 1988 Man for All Seasons.

From his home base in the middle of the U.S., Purcell consulted with companies in four countries. He traveled internationally on business into his 80s, Purcell-Pittman said.

In addition to consulting, Purcell conducted seminars for salespeople in the produce industry. Karen Caplan, president and chief executive officer of Frieda's Inc., Los Alamitos, Calif., was sent by her mother, Frieda Caplan, to one of Purcell’s week-long seminars in Monterey, Calif., shortly after she entered the produce industry.

“There were 10 or 12 other people, and you’d sit around a table and role-play,” she said. “Pete was the buyer.”

While a student in the class tried to make a sale to Purcell, he would do everything he could to distract them, Caplan said. Afterwards, the class would critique the conversa-tion.

In his “very gentle, almost fatherly” way, Purcell left a lasting impression on young industry members, Caplan said.

“He changed people’s lives,” Caplan said.

Frieda Caplan credited Purcell with opening countless doors in the industry and helping her to dream big.

“Pete was the one who discovered me,” she said.

Purcell also helped transform what had largely been a consign-ment model of buying and selling fruits and vegetables into the ownership model of today, Caplan said.

“We’ve had a lot of great people in the produce industry, but I can’t think of another who has had such a pervasive influence.”

Frieda’s, Nogales, Ariz.-based Ciruli Bros. LLC and Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Fruit Co. were among the many companies to hire Purcell for in-house consulting.

Purcell-Pittman said her father was a driving force in the Australian produce industry, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rob Robson, chief executive officer of Queensland, Australia-based The OneHarvest Group, said his company still holds a version of Purcell’s sales seminar.

“We call it ‘For Pete’s Sake, Communicate,’ and some 70 of our people have participated,” he said. “Pete was a great influence in my life and the lives of our family and many of our company people. We are all better today because of his counsel.”

Before starting his own business, Purcell worked as a marketing specialist for a California grower-shipper, a merchandiser for a national trade organization, a perishables director at a Kansas City wholesale grocer and a chief operating officer for a Memphis wholesaler.

Purcell is survived by his wife, Yvonne; five daughters; a sister; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

UPDATED: Ralph “Pete” Purcell, international consultant, dies

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