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Public Relations Director, Melissa's World Variety Produce
Most FPFC member profiles highlight the fun and exciting things people do away from work. Today’s profile chronicles the fun and exciting things our member does AT work.
Melissa’s public relations director Robert Schueller is one of those rare people who found his dream job early in life. Growing up in San Pedro, he attended California State University, Long Beach, where he received his degree in marketing.
As a kid, Robert had always been interested in food and cooking … and not just any food. “When we would go out to restaurants, I was the one who tried to order something special or even weird. I did not just want cheeseburgers.”
Nearing graduation from college, he walked into the Career Center at Long Beach State, and there on the board was a notice that some company named Melissa’s World Variety Produce was looking for a person to work in its marketing department. Upon graduation, Schueller was hired and became the company’s assistant marketing director.
As the internet started to explode on the scene, Schueller developed the company’s website, started in-housing Melissa’s marketing tools and initiated their first social media campaign. Over the years, his innovative ideas helped him advance as the company’s public relations director.
“When I first started, the marketing department consisted of Debra Cohen and myself. Today we have 15 people.”
When asked what he does outside of work, Schueller said he and his family enjoy going to their cabin in the Sequoias for weekend trips to “get away from it all for a while. I love to go fishing while I’m up there. It’s a great way for me to relax.”
He and his wife, Yvonne, have been marred 18 years and have three kids: Tannis, Nathan and Joan.
Schueller says he can’t really stray too far or go on long vacations because one of his jobs as Melissa’s PR director is hosting a radio show and also appearing on other radio shows. “I host one or two shows a month talking produce. I also appear on the nationally syndicated show of Chef Jamie Gwynn, which is another way I get the message out. Melissa’s has something like 1,500 items, so there is always a story to tell throughout the year.”
The PR man does about 80 percent of the shows live, but he also pre-records the media opportunity if he is traveling to one of the dozen or so food events he attends each year. “I also get called by a lot of food shows when they need to get produce information.”
During his tenure at the company, Melissa’s has put out a number of books that Schueller has co-authored ranging from detailing the firm’s specialty items to a Hatch Chile cookbook.
On the premises, Melissa’s has a state-of-the art test kitchen designed by its chef Ida Rodriguez. “When we started, we would have retailers come visit and we would cook some of our products for them to enjoy. When food blogging became big, we started inviting them to our kitchen. One day while showcasing our book 50 Best Plants on The Planet, an author came up to me and said, ‘What can you do for my book?’”
A light immediately turned on in Robert’s head, and for the past eight years the company has become aligned with cookbook authors from around the world, and twice a month the PR department and Melissa’s team of chefs host various food bloggers and other media to hear renowned chefs discuss their cookbooks and how produce items are incorporated into the recipes.
Schueller said, “It’s gotten to the point where these authors or their publishers contact me. It’s so popular that we have had to limit these lunches to two per month. We plan these events as far as four months out. We’ve hosted such famous authors as Nathan Turner, Steven Raichlen, Dorie Greenspan and dozens of others. Dorie was so happy with her appearance that she is returning soon.” He added that Melissa’s provides the items for the cooking demonstrations, but the chefs pay their own way to come.
Coming up soon will be an event that Robert is really looking forward to. In October, he will be traveling back to Orlando for the Walt Disney World Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. “There are kiosks with food from around the world,” he said. “Our produce is featured at the Belgium, Canada, New Zealand, Africa, Active Eats, Chocolate Studio, along with the Wine & Dine kiosks.”
On the weekend of October, Schueller is scheduled to speak on the Food Stage at the Festival Center, and then participate in a book signing after each presentation. “I have been doing this for the past eight years, and it is a great time,” he added. Now that’s a good gig!
Next time you see Robert, you can call him “The Produce Guru,” because he really does have that title. When Cooking Light magazine searches for a produce items, it’s Schueller who provides the produce for the publication’s recipes. On the Cooking Light website, he is known as “The Produce Guru.”
Consultant, Hass Avocado Board
When asked about her foray into the produce business, Juanita Gaglio, consultant for the Hass Avocado Board, quipped, “I started my career in produce serving fruits and vegetables to customers at 35,000 feet.” That’s because for 10 years, Juanita worked as a flight attendant for United and Continental Airlines, a job that has afforded her the opportunity to not only work in various capacities in the produce industry, but also to follow her passion for travel.
Gaglio grew up in Orange County and went to Westminster High School before attending Long Beach State University. Thoughts of a career in the produce industry were not in her mind when she majored in sociology, however she said, “I was thinking recently that there are three areas that make you a good marketer: sociology, anthropology and a good marketing skill set.” She has used that philosophy to her advantage as Juanita has worked in various countries around the world plying her skills.
Always interested in travel (“I read a lot as a kid, and many of those books told stories about people in other countries!”), in her early twenties, Gaglio became a flight attendant for United Airlines. “I switched a couple of years later to Continental, since they had a base in Los Angeles.”
While on reserve, she was called out to work a flight that turned out to be a charter flight during Jimmy Carter’s 1980 presidential campaign. She worked on the plane carrying staff and reporters. “Reporters would never put away their tray tables upon landing … they’d just type away,” she recalls. And when she’d crack open the front aircraft door in small Iowa towns, “the bands would begin to play. It was pretty funny.”
She worked at Continental until they filed for bankruptcy. In a fortuitous turn of events, Continental ended up merging with United, which meant Gaglio would be able to travel with lifetime pass privileges, and she has taken full advantage of that opportunity circling the globe for the better part of the past four decades.
After the airline went into bankruptcy, Gagliano took an abrupt turn and went to study in Brussels, Belgium, where she participated in a Boston University-sponsored management program. While in Belgium, where she spent most of the next decade, she took French classes that were provided free by the Brussels Chamber of Commerce. “I would attend classes there three times a week, and by the end of one year I was proficient enough to ask for more than a baguette. This gave me the opportunity to continue living in Europe while working in positions that required me to speak French.”
One of her jobs during this time was working on French military bases in Germany. This was before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and at times Gaglio would have to take the “Transit Road” taking her from the West through the East and arriving back in the West section, after many hours of travel. “There were only certain spots along that road where you could stop to get gas or something to eat. Get off on the wrong exit, and you could be arrested.”
Fortunately, she avoided the Stasi, East German secret police, and jail time. Soon after the Berlin Wall fell she visited a liberated Berlin. “It was amazing to go to Checkpoint Charlie and just walk back and forth freely.”
Back in Brussels, Gaglio got a job with an agricultural consulting firm that included working with the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association and the Florida Department of Citrus.
Returning to the United States, she was hired by Zespri/ENZA to work as a brand manager in the Southeast. In 1998, Gagliano was transferred to California, where she first started attending FPFC events.
She has been a marketing consultant for various commodity boards and companies throughout the years, and has been consulting for the Hass Avocado Board for the past four years. “Executive Director Emiliano Escobedo asked me to present assigned reports from the HAB Retail Data and Research tab. These reports have valuable insight to assist the avocado grower-shippers. I view it as translating data to 19 different grower-shippers (groups) that belong to the Hass Avocado Board.”
Gaglio goes inside the numbers with these grower-shippers to give them perspective on how to “understand the key drivers from user segment use to holiday ad reports. It gives them another set of metrics to use when presenting to a retailer or justifying why and how they should make their business and internal strategic decisions.”
She added, “Just like a realtor says, ‘Location. Location. Location,’ I say ‘Data. Data. Data.’ It’s the road map for a starting point where and how you will make those strategic marketing decisions.”
Gaglio’s marketing consulting firm is always open to working with new companies who could utilize her expertise. “I am someone who likes to think outside the box and can offer suggestions to maximize a company’s competitive advantage while helping them to reach their goals.”
Fortunately, Gaglio also has time to pursue her passion for traveling, and she tries to make a European sojourn about three times a year. “Most of my European friends I met while living in Brussels. I travel often to spend the holidays or travel with them to interesting places in Europe.”
One of her favorite spots to visit is Berlin. “Berlin is hot (and she doesn’t mean the weather),” Gaglio said. “It’s like one big Berkeley. I love visiting there.”
Another region she recommends is Morocco. “I’ve spent a week hanging out with nomads in the Sahara Desert and riding camels. It is an absolutely fascinating country, and if you didn’t know you were in Morocco, you’d think you were in France when you visit Marrakesh. As a former French colony, many French retire or have second homes there. Oh, and the food there is incroyable!”
Among other places she has visited and loved are the Greek Islands (“Santorini and Rhodes are stunningly beautiful!”) and Geneva, Switzerland, where she also worked for a bit back in the 1990s. Gaglio still has numerous friends in that area and often can be found there during holiday season. “It’s so great to spend time in Switzerland,” she said.” We can just pack up at a moment’s notice and head over to France or Germany and find an ancient farmhouse along the way to spend the night.”
Another spot Juanita cherishes is the Abruzzo region of Italy. “One of my very best friends lives there, “ Gaglio said. “It is a true Italian experience, and we sleep in the family home located above their butcher shop.” La Dolce Vita indeed.
Gaglio said that maintaining her European friends has benefitted her life greatly. “Most of my friends are European, many of them from my days in Brussels. They have enriched my life in so many ways. My Dutch boss, Frederik Van der Monde, who many people in the produce industry know, is still in touch with me.”
So when you see Juanita on a plane these days, she won’t be the one serving you fruits and vegetables, but she just might be the one in the seat next to you sipping champagne and enjoying life to the fullest.