NEWARK, DEL. — During the “Recognizing the Best Part of PMA” Virtual Town Hall held on Oct. 27, the Produce Marketing Association and the Center for Growing Talent announced and honored the winners several awards recognizing excellence across the industry. 

“We have a saying that our association is not only for or members, but by our members, especially our industry volunteers,” said PMA’s CEO, Cathy Burns. “Collaboration between our boards, committees, taskforces, councils and our team is fundamental to the work we do. Witnessing our industry’s passion and enthusiasm for produce and floral,  and channeling our industry’s efforts to grow a healthier world is humbling and inspiring. We are proud to recognize these great leaders, and grateful for their commitment and generosity.”  

Winners include: 

PMA Robert L. Carey Leadership Award: Michael Simonetta, Perfection Fresh Group 

This award honors and celebrates extraordinary efforts in volunteer service to PMA that has helped to improve, advance and develop the produce industry.  This year’s winner was announced by last year’s recipient, Jin Ju Wilder of Vesta Foodservice.  She recognized Michael Simonetta and his long legacy of volunteer leadership and service over decades and around the globe.   

“Having served on the PMA Board of Directors with Michael, and becoming friends with him, I have benefitted from his support, his experience and I’ve been inspired by his energy and the optimism he brings to industry issues,” said Wilder. “PMA and all of us continue to benefit from his excellent leadership skills, his business acumen, his global perspective and his love of the industry. He believes that together, we can grow a healthier world, and it makes him the perfect recipient for this award.”  

Michael Simonetta thanked PMA and his nominators in accepting the award, but also reflected on the good company of past winners.   

“I receive this with great pride, and it’s certainly a highlight of my career,” said Simonetta.  “I look forward to celebrating with all my friends across the produce industry, this great industry we’re all so blessed to be a part of next year, in Orlando.”  

PMA Bryan E. Silbermann Collaboration Award: Doug Grant, The Oppenheimer Group 

This award recognizes and celebrates an outstanding PMA member who has addressed and industry issue or challenges through collaborate in his or her work to advance the produce and floral industries.  This year’s award was announced by last year’s winner, Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, the executive director of Center for Produce Safety.   

“This year’s award winner, Doug Grant, epitomizes the stick-to-itiveness needed to achieve collaboration in an industry as diverse as ours,” said Fernandez-Fenaroli. Fernandez-Fenaroli described the extensive partnership and leadership Grant has shown especially in the work of the Center for Produce Safety’s work to raise the bar on fresh produce food safety across the supply chain. “There are leadership styles, and Doug is calm in the storm, intelligent and mindful. There are also leaders with style and that too, fits Doug.”  

Grant accepted the award with thanks to his family and his colleagues at Oppy who supported his volunteer leadership work for the industry especially as he enters his retirement. 

“I view this collaboration award as the capstone on my career in fresh produce,” said Grant. ”Now that I’m recently retired, I will cherish this award for many years to come. It will remind me of all the excellent people I’ve worked with on committees and the accomplishments we’ve all made together.”  

CGT Frieda Rapoport Caplan Women’s Catalyst Award: Marty Craner, B&C Fresh Sales 

The award, named for industry legend, Frieda Rapoport Caplan, recognizes those in the industry who have played an important role supporting, mentoring and advancing women in the produce and floral industries.  Last year’s winner, Kristen Reid, executive vice president at MixTec,  announced this year’s awardee with ringing praise. 

“She has truly set the standard for what it means to be a female leader in the produce industry,” said Reid. “A nominator described her as a ‘volunteer leader powerhouse’.  She has served on the board of directors and executive committee for PMA, she has chaired the Board of Directors for the Fresh Produce Council and is current chair of the Center for Growing Talent. She was recognized not just for the broad impact she has had on the industry through her volunteer roles, but for the profound impact she has had on individuals in the industry.”  

In accepting her award,  Craner reflected on the importance of the support of her colleagues and family but also reminded the industry of the importance of the legacy of the woman the award is named for. 

“As a legacy to Frieda, I encourage all of us to reach out to others – to support, connect and mentor, as Freida did for so many of us as well,” said Craner.  

CGT Jay Pack: Cultivating Our Future Award: Jill Overdorf, Naturipe Farms  

This award is dedicated to industry volunteers who, through sharing of passion and insights for careers in the produce or floral industry, have had a tremendous impact on attracting talent to the industry. This year’s award was announced by last year’s winner, Dan’l Mackey Almy from DMA Solutions.   

“I cannot think of a more deserving recipient of this award,” said Mackey Almy.  “Watching you intentionally show up for others in the industry, whether it is someone new to the industry or someone well established,  you show up and generously give your ideas and thoughts. You work to connect people so they can achieve as much success as possible.”   

In her acceptance,  Overdorf recognized the storied company of past winners including Rich Dachman and Dan’l Mackey Almy, but also reflected on what it’s like to give back to the industry, especially with the students through the Career Pathways Program.   

“When I started in this industry over 15 years ago, I had nothing but time and energy,” Overdorf said.  “I am grateful to Naturipe and Cooseman’s Shipping, my former employer, who allowed me the latitude to contribute what I had. That time and energy has paid forward to the students who I love and adore and stay in touch with now.”   

2021 PMA Impact Award: DNO Inc.   

Earlier in 2021, in recognition of the UN’s Year of Fruit and Vegetables, PMA issued a challenge to the industry to make an impact in their communities by helping to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to those underserved and in need.  While many in the industry stepped up, the winner, DNO, Inc, stood out.  “Jeremy Taylor, VP of Sales at DNO Inc. rallied his colleagues to eliminate lunch school debt for high school students at Hamilton local schools for the 2020 school year,” explained PMA’s Chief Science Officer, Max Teplitski. “They raised funds to clear all high school lunch debt and carry a remainder into the Fall of 2020.”  

In accepting this award, DNO president, Alex DiNovo, explained that while his company works closely with schools providing ready to eat fruits and vegetables, there is one thing that has always bothered him.  

“Many children around the country who don’t qualify for fresh meals, owe school lunch debt that’s accrued through their inability to pay for them,” DiNovo said. “It bothered us so much that one of our associates, Jeremy Taylor, decided to make a difference and pay off a local high school debt from where he graduated.  These are the types of actions that make us better as a company and as an industry.”   

 Science and Technology Circle of Excellence Award:  Verdant Robotics 

The award is to recognize the an individual, company or organization that is working to solve an industry challenge through innovations in science and technology.  Gabe Sibley, founder and CEO of Verdant Robotics, along with fellow Founder and COO, Curtis Garner accepted the award on behalf of their company.  The company’s solution provides growers with the ability to digitally map their entire farm to track all aspects of the growth of their products at scale.  

“Each cubic centimeter of the farm can be tracked and monitored to guide the outcome of what’s grown,” said Sibley. “Imagine tracking an apple blossom from bud to harvest.”  

Retail Merchant of the Year Award Winners: 

The award is designed to recognize the great work of retail merchants who are essential to educating consumers and team members on produce to impact store sales and drive consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.  This award is sponsored by Sage Fruit, who support this award because of the importance of retail merchants to the success of sharing growers’ stories with consumers. 

“Without the success of these different merchants building exciting displays out in the stores, our growers would not be as successful as we are,” said Sage Fruit President of Sales and Marketing, Chuck Sinks. “We couldn’t be more excited to announce these winners, congratulations to each of you!”  

The 2021 Winners: 

  • 1-10 Store Count: Dino Medica, Produce Coordinator, Metropolitan Market 
  • 11-49 Store Count: Jeff Fairchild, Director of Produce, New Seasons Market 
  • 50-199 Store Count: Mike Roberts, Produce Director, Harps Food Stores 
  • 200 – 399 Store Count: Brian McKinght, Merchandising Manage, Kroger Company - Houston 
  • 400+ Store Count: Steven Williams, VP Produce and Floral, Southeastern Grocers