Retailer Profile – Robby Cruz
Vice President of Produce Sourcing & Procurement
Sprouts Farmers Markets
Fast Tracking Through Life
As of this writing, Robby Cruz is only 42 years old, yet he has already spent 25 years in the retail produce sector, has been a top executive for four different operations and is a grandfather to boot.
Of the last milestone, he said, “I always wanted to have kids young so I could play and coach them in sports and I did that. I coached baseball for eight years, football for three years and soccer for two years. I’m not coaching anymore, but watching my kids play sports is my favorite hobby. Golf is my other hobby but what I really love to do is watch my kids play sports. Right now, two are out of the house and my senior (in high school) plays lacrosse year-round. We love going to tournaments and turning them into family vacations.”
Robby, and that is his given name, grew up in a retail produce family as his father is Rick Cruz, who was recently awarded the 2019 Norman H. “Buz” Bolstad Produce Achievement Award by the Fresh Produce & Floral Council.
Rick introduced his son to the world of retailing when he was a young teenager. By the time he was 17 in 1994, he had secured a Courtesy Clerk position in a San Diego area store and had begun the path that he is still on today. Robby was soon introduced to the produce department and he immediately fell in love with the work. “In high school, I briefly thought I wanted to go into architecture but after I got involved with produce, I gave up that thought. I loved produce from day one. I loved to talk about produce and merchandising and procurement. I loved it all.”
When he was 23 years old, Robby procured his first Produce Manager job in what he remembers was “store number 2344 in Escondido.” He calls that the seminal moment when he had no doubt that he had found his calling and would work his way up through the retail ranks. By that time he was already married with two kids at home. “I met my wife, Devon at the Vons in Oceanside. I was a produce clerk; she was a service clerk. We knew very quickly that we were going to get married.”
That was in the late 1990s and he already had several years of experience under his belt. For most of the next two decades, Robby did rise through the Safeway/Vons produce ranks. He went from Produce Manager to Produce Merchandiser overseeing 30 stores in the San Diego area. When Safeway introduced its new “Lifestyle” concept, Robby spent two years as a Remodel Merchandising Captain working the southern half of the state.
Next he became a Division Operations Manager for Floral. He stayed in this position for five years before moving to the corporate office in Pleasanton where he assumed the same position for floral operations in all the Safeway stores. In total, Cruz spent 21 years under the Safeway/Vons umbrella, including the first year following the 2014 Albertsons/Safeway merger in which he served as the Sales Director of the Northern California Division of the combined supermarket chain.
Shortly after Target began offering produce in its outlets, Cruz was recruited to the position of Senior Director of Fresh for Target and moved to Minneapolis with his family in 2015. In 2017, he shifted to SuperValu, which was also based in the Minneapolis area, in a Vice President position in the Fresh Produce Department. In 2018, SuperValu sold its retail banners to United Natural Foods and Cruz transitioned to the wholesale end of the business as Vice President of Procurement. “That was an entirely different situation,” he said. “As a retailer you decide who to partner with. As a wholesaler you are on the other side of the deal. Everything is driven by costs. It was a good learning experience and I enjoyed talking to customers and discussing merchandising strategy because of my retail background, but I did want to get back into retailing.”
On June 1 of this year, he did land his current position at Sprouts Farmers Markets and is in the process of transitioning his family to the Phoenix area. Because his son is in his senior year of high school this fall, the family will live a dual-home existence for the next year with Cruz traveling back to Minnesota as often as possible. He admits that another motivation to moving west was to get closer to his extended family, including his new grandchild. Many members of both Robby and Devon’s families live in Southern California. “It’s a goal of mine to coach my grandchild in sports. That would be awesome.”
It does not appear he will mentor any of his kids in the art of produce retailing. His oldest daughter, Siena, is working on her nursing degree, while his oldest son, Coby, “is a techie kid working for Best Buy.” Child number three is Jayden, the lacrosse player who is pointing toward a career in chemical engineering and is fascinated with battery science. His youngest is Makenna, who has not yet charted a future career course but is playing several sports, which allows her dad to continue his number one hobby.