Each month, the Fresh Produce & Floral Council profiles a different member or a different retailer. Check back to learn more about the professionals in the produce and floral industry and the members of the FPFC.
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Produce Buyer, Grocery Outlet
Daniel Bell believes he had the talent to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball but not the maturity when it came to a crossroads in his life. Instead, he quit baseball and joined the ranks of the working class as a night clerk in the produce department of a North San Diego County Vons.
But he has no regrets as his life and career have dealt him a full hand of opportunities and advancement.
The journey began on Camp Pendleton Marine Base in 1967 as the newly born son of a Marine, who had served three tours of duty overseas, two of which were during the Vietnam War. In fact, Daniel was the only one of a group of four children who was delivered while his father was not out fighting wars. Daniel grew up in nearby Carlsbad, CA, playing ball and living an ordinary life. “I was the typical confused teenager,” he said. “I played sports, surfed and fished.”
He was not an especially good student, and though he was an excellent baseball player, his lack of “due diligence” to his studies caused him to continue his post-high school baseball career at the local junior college. A crossroads decision came when he hurt his knee and he disregarded the coach’s suggestion to redshirt (sit out) a year two before returning to the active roster.
“Though he was a good coach, I didn’t agree with him, “ Bell said. “I was just too young to know what I should do.”
Bell said one of the hardest things he had to do was tell his dad he was quitting baseball.
But opportunity opened another door. It was in 1990 that he started working at Vons. To say it was love at first sight would be an exaggeration. “I was told I wasn’t going to make it,” he said, speaking of one of his earliest evaluations. “It was an older store staffed with slow starters and people on their last leg. I was getting about 24 to 28 hours a week.”
His life changed when produce manager Fernando Terrazas took him to lunch. He gave him a pep talk and made him a promise. “He told me, ‘I’ll make sure you get the hours and you better come in whenever I call you.’”
The partnership worked. “He gave me plenty of hours and I worked every time he asked.”
He got promoted to assistant produce manager and after a temporary setback because of a company-wide layoff, Bell found himself at the Del Mar store working with both Terrazas and Hector Avila, another produce manager that was instrumental in his job progression. “That’s where I learned the craft of being a produce manager,” he said.
Over the next several years, Bell worked hard, shifted stores a couple of times and in 1996 was named produce manager of the store in Clairemont, a community within the city limits of San Diego.
He continued his upward mobility and eventually being named a produce manager in the La Jolla store. “That was the crème de la crème,” he said, noting that it was a high-end store with lots of business and experimentation.
As the century turned, Vons soon became part of the Safeway family and Bell was very happy in his position. “I had been talked to about being a merchandiser, but I was never interested.”
However, in 2006, Mil Mijanavic, who had worked with Bell at Vons and was involved with the Tom Thumb division of Safeway in Texas, gave Bell a call. “He offered me a merchandiser position with the Texas division and explained exactly what he wanted to do and why I was the right guy for the job.”
Daniel and his wife, Aida, discussed the opportunity and decided it was the perfect time to take on a new challenge, as their three sons were all still relatively young.
In 2010, after close to five years in Texas and getting a great produce education, Bell was offered a position back in California with Grocery Outlet Bargain Markets in Northern California. Again, the ages of his sons factored into the decision: “My oldest son was about to enter high school so it was the perfect time to move.”
Bell was hired as a merchandiser/buyer and now is the produce buyer for California and Nevada. “I manage sales margins, pricing, ads and selection for those stores,” he said. “I also ‘own’ several commodities, including avocados, berries, grapes, citrus, tropical, pears and cherries, among others.”
Since soon after he came to California, Grocery Outlet has been in a growth spurt. From 137 stores in 2010, there are now about 309 stores in six states: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Pennsylvania. It is growing at a clip of 30 or more stores per year. The company’s produce buying philosophy is the “deal always wins.”
While the retailer uses regular suppliers for its everyday needs, it also is always looking for that value buy that it can pass on to its owner-operators. In the Grocery Outlet business model, each store is owned and run by an on-site and in-house owner. It is typically a husband and wife team, who hires their own staff. The contract with Grocery Outlet calls for the parent company to build the store and supply these owner-operators with merchandise. “Our job is to buy, their job is to sell,” Bell quipped.
Grocery Outlet does allow the operators to manage their quantities, but they are encouraged to take advantage of the deals that the buyers come up with on a daily basis. Bell said the produce team is constantly looking for that off-size piece of fruit or vegetable pack that can be bought at a discounted rate with the savings passed on to the consumer. “We’re always looking for the deal,” Bell said, offering that recent sales include two-pound packs of rainbow peppers and organic strawberries. Each could be sold at store-level for well under normal pricing.
Though Grocery Outlet is a discounter, Bell said its customers still want high-quality produce and are big buyers of organics and other specialty items. Each store has a NOSH (natural, organic, specialty, healthy) section that features the latest on-trend organic category.
Daniel and Aida live in Roseville, CA and have three sons. Twenty-two year old Xavier just graduated from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, while Conor, 18, and Aidan, 14, are still in high school. For fun, the family does a lot of outdoor activities, including hiking. Bell heads down to San Diego every once in a while for 8-12 day fishing excursions, leaving from the local port. “I love to fish,” he understates.
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.”