Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association
Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association

Have you ever thought about why we honor individuals in our industry, or, really, in all walks of life?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently.

The United Fresh Produce Association is once again seeking nominations for our annual retail produce managers awards at the upcoming San Diego convention in May.

I suppose our first goal is to simply say thank you to these stalwart professionals on the frontline of our industry.

Too often they are the unsung heroes, laboring in anonymity, but making all the difference in delighting our customers with a fresh produce experience.

But even with the tremendous backing of our sponsor Ready Pac Foods, we can only recognize 25 people out of the literally thousands of produce managers across the industry.

So, we honor 25 and hope that conveys some degree of thanks to the rest.

But when we honor a select few, we’re also trying to convey a message to our community, including those in the convention audience and those who will read about it in The Packer.

These individuals have done something special — look at them, learn from them.

We’re lifting up models of excellence, pointing to performance and behaviors that we want to motivate and emulate.

We’re also now seeking nominees for our annual Foodservice Awards Program that Pro*Act supports to recognize outstanding chefs across the country.

Here, we’re specifically looking for role models who challenge the status quo and use their creativity to truly make fresh produce the star attraction and no less than half the dining plate.

We look for examples in different foodservice settings from fine dining to quick-serve to schools. And — guess what? — the honorees set the bar for their peers.

Finally, awards and honors can inspire others, even if you’re not directly in the same role or line of business as an honoree. These awards say thank you to an individual, and surely recognize their achievements.

But these awards do more — they tell a story that resonates across boundaries of time, profession and industry. They’re more about shared human values.

When Frieda Caplan receives the United Fresh Lifetime Achievement Award at our upcoming Winter Leadership Meetings in January, she will inspire. 

I’ve known Frieda just about from the start of my 20 years as United’s president.

But many of you have known her for the entire 50 years since she founded Frieda’s Finest/Produce Specialties in 1962.

At our dinner to honor Frieda, I know we will all join in saying thank you to our friend and colleague who has done so much to bring the joy of fresh produce to consumers everywhere.

We’ll also point to Frieda as a role model and talk about her good works.

When Frieda started her business on the male-dominated Los Angeles Wholesale Produce Market, she was one of the first women to own and operate a U.S. produce business.

She broke glass ceilings when they were more likely made of concrete, and she forged a reputation as a savvy marketer and a driven business entrepreneur that could match anyone in the produce business.

For many of you, you’ve been able to watch Frieda up close or from afar, learning skills to be applied in your own business career.

But the impact of this award will go beyond us saying thank you, or simply pointing to Frieda’s work of the past 50 years for lessons learned.

Frieda’s story will inspire those who haven’t worked closely with her, those who haven’t met her, those who don’t know her company, and even those who might say “Frieda who?”

A lifetime of achievement in any industry requires passion, perseverance, faith, family, and so much more. That is the story that takes this particular honor to another level.

It is the story of a person in our industry, and in our case, it is our honor to be able to recognize Frieda Caplan.

So if you ask me why we honor individuals like Frieda, it is of course to say thank you, and to point to her lifetime of achievements.

But even more, it is to inspire you. Whether you’ve traveled a similar path in the produce business, or are just starting out and trying to figure out your way, know that great things are accomplished in this industry by great people.

Our industry changes the way the world eats, and one individual can make that difference.

I hope you will join me in honoring Frieda Caplan at our Produce Legends Dinner in Tucson in January.

Tom Stenzel is president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

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