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It's a "Wo-Mann's" World: A Conversation With Gina Nucci and Lorri Koster

They say there are two sides to every story, but these two sisters are proving that those sides can be paired, partnered, and brought together in one cohesive brand.

In an industry increasingly focused on marketing, differentiation, and product development, Mann Packing stands out as a company consistently bringing forward-thinking product lines to market. The company has, throughout its 78-year history, seen broccoli through its beginnings, as a relatively-obscure frozen food category, to its place as a fresh food staple—with dozens of value-added and foodservice applications across a handful of prominent brands.

Two of the individuals continuing the company’s legacy of innovation are CEO and Chairman Lorri Koster and Director of Corporate Marketing Gina Nucci, the executives leading the women-owned and operated family farm in its continued expansion efforts and ambitious marketing initiatives.

“Mann Packing is all about fresh. Fresher ideas, fresher experiences, and fresher results. Fresher. Fresher. Fresher."
- Gina Nucci

“We want to help retailers provide consumers with innovative ways to use fresh vegetables in their daily lives. We want consumers to spend more time talking with family at the dinner table, rather than prepping and cooking in the kitchen. Our mission statement says it all—Fresh Veggies Made Easy.”

As Director of Corporate Marketing, Gina is spearheading a series of new marketing initiatives aimed at focusing Mann’s’ corporate purpose and brand personality—a personality Gina describes as “easy, trustworthy, passionate, fresh, and lighthearted.”

To Gina and Lorri, though, Mann’s is more than a brand. It’s a family. The Nuccis have been an integral part of the company since Lorri and Gina’s father Don joined Mann’s as an office manager in the late 1960s. Eventually, in 1976, Don and longtime Mann’s employee Bill Ramsey became partners in the operation. Along with founder H.W. “Cy” Mann they brought family members on board to meet the needs of the burgeoning company and mentor them in the produce industry.

In fact, Gina tells me she has been working for the company, on and off, since she was ten years old.

Lorri Koster, CEO & Chairman (left), and Gina Nucci, Director of Corporate Marketing, for Mann Packing (right)

“I put together nutrition posters and recipes in our garage, a couple hours each week for my dad. My sister Lorri did the job before me,” Gina tells me. After studying nutrition at the University of Arizona, Gina set off in search of adventure, living abroad for nearly two years and travelling for another six months. “And at the same time, my brother Joe had taken over Mann Packing as the CEO and needed some help in marketing with a new vegetable they were launching. He had been emailing me regularly to see if my money was running out. He knew I could hit the ground running with little training because of my background working at Mann’s and my experience in London working at a public relations firm. I started as the Broccolini® Brand Manager, and that is when Gina Broccolini was born. 

Lorri shares a similar experience. As current CEO, she recollects fondly that she also began her career in the family garage fulfilling orders from teachers for posters and newsletters.

“Funny, we still send out those posters today—and I have young interns doing it!” she says. After working with the company through high school (“lots and lots of filing”), Lorri had an opportunity to mentor with David Stidolph while she studied at California State University, Chico. “David was a creative marketing genius. He taught me many tricks of the trade and how to work with different types of people and cultures. There was no better training than working food shows next to Dave!”

(1) Sautéed snap peas (2) The Mann Packing Headquarters in Salinas, CA (3) Snap peas frying in a skillet (4) Broccolini on the grill (5) Grilled broccolini

After college, Lorri began managing marketing communications for the company full-time. Eventually, circumstances would move the young executive to pursue opportunities with other companies. 

It wasn’t until the tragic death of her and Gina’s older brother Joe Nucci, then President and CEO of Mann’s, in 2005 and the loss of her father only 14 months later, that Lorri would return to the company and assume the mantle of leadership.

“After having two young boys, I left the company for a bit and consulted for Mann via Koster Communications, where I acquired and became publisher of Coastal Grower Magazine,” Lorri says. “When my dad passed away in 2006, I came back to Mann full-time and my husband Tom took over Koster Communications. From 2006 to 2012, I managed the marketing, product development, and communication part of the business as well as representing my family on the Board of Directors.”

Lorri returned to the company and served in a series of executive positions, eventually becoming CEO in 2012. After years of being one of the only women at the table in a male-dominated industry, Lorri found herself at the helm of this proud women-owned company. Lorri is quick to downplay the significance, noting the company’s merits are by no means gendered, but that certification can be an important distinction with vendors and consumers.

From left to right: Michael Jackson, President and CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Monterey County; Gina Nucci, who serves on the organization’s Board of Directors; Linda Tossetti-Gulley, Director of Public Relations and Marketing; and Jose Moran, Director Community Relations (both with Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County)

“Our certification as a Women Business Enterprise enables some of our customers to meet their vendor diversity goals,” Lorri tells me. “It makes a ‘win-win’ a ‘win-win-win.’ We don’t rest our laurels on that one aspect of our business. Clearly, service, quality, and consistency come first—but it’s a card in our deck, and we play it when we can. It’s a differentiator in an industry that has many similar business models. It is ironic that our company founder’s last name was Mann. We joke that today Mann Packing could be Wo-Mann Packing Company!”

Now, after 78 years working tirelessly to diversify its offerings and present more and more unique products to its customers and consumers, Mann’s is looking to weave a master narrative through its extensive catalog of value-added offerings, from Culinary Cuts®, Family Favorites®, Fresh Leaf Farms™, Nourish Bowls™, Organic Biologique, Snacking Favorites, and Veggie Slaw Blends lines—each with unique brand identity. Add a variety of foodservice offerings, and you can see that Mann’s slate is expansive.

“We’ve been so focused on introducing new product lines to the industry that we haven’t really had the opportunity to market our company and how we’re different to do business with,” Gina notes.

“People know Mann’s by our products, which is wonderful, but how and why we’re bringing these products to market is an integral story we need to tell.”
-Gina Nucci

Since being founded as a fresh carrot packing operation in the late-1930s by H.W. “Cy” Mann, a Stanford graduate who began his agricultural career trimming fruit and lettuce for 40¢ an hour during the Great Depression, the company has been continually expanding and diversifying its production.

“We’ve worked hard at de-commoditizing products; that differentiates us from the competition,” says Gina. “When Mr. Mann founded the company in 1939 he grew and packed carrots, then iceberg, then he added broccoli. Not a lot of people were doing broccoli—then we added crowns, then broccoli florets, then broccoli cole slaw. We kept diversifying products to add value and therefore more margins.”

Whereas in the past, Mann’s marketing efforts may have been outpaced by the growth of its product lines, Gina and Lorri are now working to design and implement programs that tell the company’s story holistically and appeal to customers and consumers with consistent messaging across several platforms.

To this end, the company has expanded its online presence with its “Mann, That’s Easy” blog and social media content, including recipes and usage tips, portraits of growers and chefs, and more. The company has also undergone a complete website redesign—with consistent messaging across the company’s entire house of brands.

“The website rebranding really launched our new marketing efforts,” explains Gina. “Our previous website had the look and feel of our Family Favorites line of products—like our Broccoli Wokly and Vegetable Blends. We wanted a fresh new look that could house all our brands—our Mann Family of Products.”

The Mann Packing Team at the company’s headquarters in Salinas, California. From left to right: Gina Nucci, Sharon Outland, Susan Cameron, Alex McClosky, Loree Dowse, Jacob  Shafer, Jennifer Lind, Gabe Gonzales, Roberto Avila, and Kane Palacios

For Gina, Lorri, and the team at Mann’s the challenge is to create a greater shared identity between the company’s unique brands of much-loved products. In the same way that the Nuccis and Ramseys have brought a coherent vision and continued prosperity to the company, Gina and Lorri are working to ensure the Mann’s family of brands is unified in its identity and its exceptional quality. Both bring a lifetime of experience to the task and, perhaps more importantly, a devotion that can only be described as familial.

“It may be the Nucci and Ramsey families that ‘own’ Mann Packing, but between our growers and our employees we have many multi-generational families and employees with tenures easily over 20, 25, 30, 35, even 40 years,” Lorri tells me. “We always joke around that when we say family ‘owned and operated’ the ‘operated’ part is the real deal! We are very hands-on, very involved, very passionate about our customers, the people that work here, and the families that grow for us. We work side by side with all of them and carry our share of the workload. We also love to have fun! We just wrapped up a company ping-pong tournament, and our Back to the Valley barbecue is next week.”

From an exceptional slate of offerings to a tight-knit crew working side by side, Gina and Lorri are proving that good things run in the Mann Packing family.