In an industry like fresh produce, one dinner with anyone can blossom into a valuable relationship. Or, in this case, a valuable story.
I was lucky enough to sit across from Mary Zink after a wonderful Produce Marketing Association’s Womens Fresh Perspectives Conference. She carried herself in such a way that I was shocked to learn her produce career spanned only a couple of years at the time. A year later, I finally got to walk Mary’s path with her, and it is one many mentees would be fortunate to learn from.
“It turns out my background is quite unique,” she starts. “I’ve been with Wegmans 18 years, but I’m a pharmacist by profession. I’m actually the ninth pharmacist in my family, so there was no question about what I wanted to do when I grew up!”
It brings the entire “food as medicine”—in this case fruits and veggies—concept into an entirely new light. In fact, that very concept is how Mary found herself interested in jumping over the counter.
“In 2005, I was managing one of our pharmacies and our Wegmans MENU magazine heavily featured produce, as it often does. We had this kick-off that incorporated so much produce in new and fun ways that, afterwards, I went back and told everyone ‘I’m going to work in produce someday,’” Mary laughs.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love the Pharmacy. In fact, the two areas are so similar in their attention to detail, fast-paced environment, and commitment to quality that the move was more of a step than a leap. The amazing thing about Wegmans, she shares, is the opportunity to gain additional learnings and the support to do so. Mary is a true example of this as her journey has led her from Pharmacy to Accounting, to where she is now in Produce Merchandising.
"We had this kick-off that incorporated so much produce in new and fun ways that, afterwards, I went back and told everyone ‘I’m going to work in produce someday.'"
- Mary Zink, Produce Category Merchant, Wegmans Food Markets
“The next thing I knew, Dave Corsi, Wegmans’ Vice President of Produce and Floral, came knocking on my door and said, ‘We want you in produce,’ and it’s been a dream since,” she shares. “To see Dave’s passion and all he’s gathered in his 25 years in produce is an amazing opportunity. He’s taught me to never lose sight of being the best—best in quality, best in flavor, and having the best relationships with our partners.”
A strong relationship with its partners is a pillar of Wegmans’ overall culture, no matter the department. What came as the biggest surprise to Mary since working so closely with those partners was how open and willing they are to teach, share, and craft genuine relationships.
“To me, it’s always been all about the relationships. One of the first to solidify how important partnerships are was David Masser of Sterman Masser Potatoes. From our first meeting, David has been nothing but sincere, respectful, compassionate, and patient, and I couldn’t imagine a Wegmans produce department without this partnership,” she tells me.
Another of those first key mentors was President and CEO Paul Mastronardi of Mastronardi Produce, who continues to be so to this day.
“The welcome I received for being completely new to the wonderful world of produce has continued to fuel my passion and motivation. Paul played a big role in this and I often liken him to Walt Disney—when he dreams it, he does it. Nothing is impossible, and I find that energy so contagious. It’s that mentality I want to emulate when managing my team and my category. He’s been so selfless in sharing all his experiences, his learnings, and he’s awesome to be around. I will forever be grateful to him for inspiring me.”
The most recent change in Mary’s blossoming produce career has taken a sweeter turn toward the fruit side of the business. That transition has been made even sweeter by Lori Anne Carr, Vice President of Titan Farms.
Mary explains that each conversation is truly a conversation in which she feels a part of the family. Whether it’s talking about the current season, the upcoming harvest, or the family dog (named Peaches), Lori Anne brings with her a fresh perspective as a female role model in the industry.
“It’s been incredible to get to know Lori Anne as she is so open to sharing her wisdom with me. I mean, she’s doing something right…she has a peach named after her!”
Mary feels, with the support of the mentors she’s crossed thus far in her produce path, that she can begin to positively influence what she refers to as her “village”—those roles, she tells me, that are many oftentimes unseen but integral to the success of Wegmans’ Produce Departments, from the Ripeners and Buyers to part-time customer service employees.
“They are so important to our overall success, and I would love to help usher in the next generation of produce,” Mary shares. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the other Produce Category Merchants at Wegmans constantly pushing me to be my best! I want to continue to build my career in produce any way I can, combining my philosophy of food as medicine with my passion for Wegmans fueling my dream. Like Paul, by believing in this dream, nothing is impossible.”
As Mary’s unique path continues to wind, she assures me she wants it to stay near the produce industry—great news for the mentees she has yet to meet.
Here is what they have to say about Mary Zink...
Dave Corsi, Vice President of Produce and Floral, Wegmans Food Market
"What’s most interesting about Mary is her career path and the depth of knowledge gained for health and wellness from the pharmaceutical side to now natural remedies. I’ve always joked with Mary that I’m glad she’s in fresh produce, since ‘our drugs taste better.’ With this knowledge, anyone who’s mentored under Mary’s tutelage will greatly benefit based on her experiences, her talents in category management, her keen leadership skills, and her full spectrum of knowledge around health in two industries. I congratulate Mary on being selected as a key mentor in our industry."
Paul Mastronardi, President and CEO, Mastronardi Produce
"Mary is a remarkable ambassador for Wegmans and truly represents the company’s value of pursuing excellence in the retail world. In a few short years, she has made major strides in the industry and has cultivated strong working relationships with her colleagues and customers. Mary is passionate about her work, strives for excellence in what she does, and empowers others to do the same.
When I first met her, Mary made it clear that she was not a fan of tomatoes. But that did not stop her from experiencing many different varieties and throwing herself headfirst into a category that was completely new to her. Driven by her professional curiosity and commitment to ensuring Wegmans’ customers get the very best every day, she willfully seized the reins to grow the category to greater success.
It has been a pleasure to witness Mary’s professional development and career progression. I’m delighted to have been part of it—especially of her newly developed tomato appreciation!"
Lori Anne Carr, Vice President, Titan Farms
"For someone who has only been on the peach desk for a little more than six months, Mary earned a tremendous feather in her cap this past summer! Our business with Wegmans grew by almost 20 percent over the 2018 season, and that was solely due to Mary’s commitment to the product. She encouraged involvement from department managers across the store to offer inspiration to their customers for meals and other pairings; worked closely with our marketing team to develop tremendous support and further the customer experience; and even added a new Titan product to Wegmans’ product line! Mary has taken the time to learn her category and to explore new ideas to make it better. She is definitely a leader in her business and I look forward to seeing how she continues to offer innovative ways to increase sales in the peach category!"