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Navigating Markets: A Q&A with Robb Bertels, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Gold Coast Packing

Navigating Markets: A Q&A with Robb Bertels, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Gold Coast Packing

Cast your eyes up to the vast universe that covers our fields. The expansive sky holds the many mysteries that philosophers have pondered for centuries, whether it’s of life, love, or the future. Fast-forward to now, beneath that same sky are thought leaders and initiators looking to make a difference, both in the community and around the world.

For Robb Bertels, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Gold Coast Packing, those leaders served as his guiding stars as he made his journey throughout the produce and floral industries—and it all started with the stroke of a pen.

 


Lilian Diep: Robb, you started your career straight out of the University of Kansas with your Journalism degree. From one journalist to another, has the floral and produce industry always called out to you?

Robb Bertels, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Gold Coast Packing: My first job out of college was in trade news media. I began selling advertising for a floral magazine for about a year before I was recruited to Salinas, California, to handle advertising sales at another trade publication; I’ve been around produce for most of my career.

 


LD: Since your entry into produce over 30 years ago, what has kept your interest in this industry?

RB: I used to say my knowledge of produce was a mile wide but only an inch deep. Produce isn’t just one industry: it is seeds, soil, water, and farming; processing and distribution; packaging and transportation; and wholesale, retail, and foodservice. Each segment and each commodity has its own unique personality and challenges that are infinitely fascinating. Broad exposure connected me to many interesting people and businesses, and very few days go by without the opportunity to learn something new.

“Broad exposure connected me to many interesting people and businesses, and very few days go by without the opportunity to learn something new.”

Robb Bertels, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Gold Coast Packing


LD: Staying on that trajectory, you’ve continued to grow your mastery in sales and marketing. Why do you think this field plays an important role in expanding the reach of fresh produce?

RB: One of my first mentors at The Packer, Bill Coon, used to say, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Slightly ironic for a produce publication, but the point is valid: Everyone knows produce is good for them (the steak), so sales and marketing’s main priority is to tell the story behind the product (the sizzle).

Some consumers are focused on learning the story behind their food, which includes the farmers, how it’s grown, if it’s sustainable, and how it got to their plate. But most shoppers are interested in how good the product tastes, how to use it, and whether it is net positive for Mother Earth.

Consistency is key. The real trick sales and marketing departments have to master is weaving that message through the full production system until they hit home—all while maintaining the personality and identity of both the product and company.


“There are so many facets to this business; embrace learning something every day, and you will be successful. There is no way to know it all, so welcome the journey and be open to the possibilities.”


LD: I’m sure you’ve met a lot of leaders who have left an impression on you, whether it’s through life skills or career development. What are some techniques or advice that keep your gaze focused?

RB: When things get hectic and challenging, it’s easy to overreact. I try to keep a calm demeanor and approach things analytically to find solutions that solve problems. From time to time, I also take a page out of my old mentors’ and friends’ playbooks.

I might over-analyze at times. But sometimes, it’s just best to “rip that Band-Aid® off” and face the pain and move on (Justin Davis, Director of Sales and Marketing, Sakata Seed America). At other times, it’s best not to react until absolutely necessary (Ross Wileman, retired Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Mission Produce). Figuring out what to do and when to do it comes from listening far more than talking (Bill O’Neill, retired Vice President and Publishing Director, The Packer Publications), and reading the situation and setting a course of action (Steve Barnard, Chief Executive Officer, Mission Produce). Basically, trial and error seasoned with experience (Gary English, National Accounts Manager, The Packer Publications).

And spreadsheets. I love a good spreadsheet.


LD: Spoken like a true sales guy! With so much foundation and advice to build on, what are some key nuggets of wisdom you would like to pass on?

RB: “Be curious, not judgmental.” A quote from Ted Lasso I resonate with.

You should always be open to learning by listening, exploring, and being interested. There are so many facets to this business; embrace learning something every day, and you will be successful. There is no way to know it all, so welcome the journey and be open to the possibilities.


With his own quill poised, a map laid out, and the industry’s hand on his shoulder, it’s no wonder that this VP already has a firm grasp of navigating his own space in the industry. For if we all look up at those stars, we see plenty of inspiration to draw from and fields of green to rush through. And Robb still has the wide-eyed wonder to keep exploring. 

Navigating Markets: A Q&A with Robb Bertels, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Gold Coast Packing