Straight from the fields

Leading the Edge

Leading the Edge

Improvisation, pacesetting, and innovation—these are characteristics of cutting-edge paradigms driving the success of forward-thinking companies across our industry. Some vanguards see opportunities where challenges prevail and find the fundamental materials for greatness where others dare not look. This is a space I reserve for companies like Sprouts Farmers Market. The specialty grocer’s bold leadership grasps these ideals with such passion that many in our industry look to them as examples of a thriving vision with the ability to impact the way consumers shop on a national stage.

Sitting at the helm of Sprouts’ vision for fresh fruits and vegetables is Robby Cruz, Vice President of Produce Sourcing and Procurement, whose sharp and acute eye for detail and innovation is helping to refine and evolve a vision for greatness across the forefront of fresh.

With vendor partnerships and a goal to open more supplier dialogue at the top of his list of priorities, Robby joins me to share the details of the road he is helping to pave for Sprouts and what continues to get the produce veteran up in the morning.


Jordan Okumura: Robby, Sprouts Farmers Market always seems to have an edge when it comes to anticipating the consumer’s wants and needs. What is it about Sprouts’ vision and key tenets that drive your own passion and goals while allowing for such a unique position in the marketplace?

Robby Cruz: I love the surprise-and-delight aspect of our business for the customers. We are often working with our grower partners to move large volumes of product at a great value for our customers. Our mantra at Sprouts is to be “the destination for the freshest, best-tasting produce at a great value.”

We have “farmers market” in our name, and this is not something we take lightly. It shows when you visit our stores—from the front of the store’s outdoor displays to entering through the front door, consumers see fresh produce all throughout their shopping trip.

 

JO: I know how heavily you invest in your supplier partners and what they mean to Sprouts. How do they play into your vision for Sprouts in terms of fresh produce, presentation, and industry relationships?

RC: I am a big believer in vendor partnerships. The key to a great partnership is transparency in ensuring that each side’s vision aligns with their goals. Not everyone is going to have the same vision, and that is okay because every retailer doesn’t have the same go-to-market strategy.

Essentially, my vision is to set goals for both parties and then ensure we work together to meet and exceed them.

JO: With more than a quarter century in this industry, I imagine that it has grown on you just a little. Fresh produce does get into your bones. Robby, what do you love about this industry, and how do its unique demands align with your own personal and professional goals?

RC: I love how fast-paced the industry is, day to day. That truly aligns with who I am.

Both as a team and in conversations with our grower partners, we often talk about our intention to look even further downfield—we not only need to look at the now but how we plan together for the future. We need to lead the industry in our vision through merchandising, sourcing, and procurement. Our goal and strategy is to find the next variety of fruit or vegetable that gives our customers that amazing at-home eating experience which, in turn, gives us that repeat purchase.

“We are often working with our grower partners to move large volumes of product at a great value for our customers.”

Robby Cruz, Vice President of Produce Sourcing and Procurement, Sprouts Farmers Market

JO: One of the topics we love to cover here at The Snack is how we all arrived in this place—fresh produce. What do your origins look like, Robby, and what path led you to your current position at Sprouts?

RC: Originally, coming out of high school, I wanted to be a landscape architect, but figured out pretty quickly that I loved the satisfaction of an amazingly merchandised department. There is something about increasing sales through enticing your customers with fresh, great quality, and perfectly merchandised products that rewards the team.

I worked at three pretty large companies, climbing my way through the ranks, touching on all sides of the business from stores, sales, merchandising, procurement, and sourcing. I had the opportunity to work for a great company like Sprouts that is focused on driving traffic with produce, and so joining the team seemed like a natural fit. The work here has happened seamlessly.

 

JO: With all the experience you have in the industry and all that you are trying to accomplish, what is it that gets you up in the morning?

RC: It sounds cliché, but I absolutely love my job and the industry we work in. I have been in the industry for 27 years, and I am never satisfied with where we are. The industry transforms and moves at a million miles an hour, and we need to continue to immerse ourselves in learning more every day.

JO: I assume you know what’s coming next: What keeps you up at night?

RC: What keeps me up at night right now is this new way of going to business over phone calls and emails due to the pandemic. I feel we lose a little of that TEAM atmosphere and comradery by not being in the same office or in the fields and talking strategy with vendor partners in person.

 

JO: For all those looking for a little more wisdom in their lives, what advice do you have for up-and-comers on the buy-side or the supply-side?

RC: Have a vision of who you want to be and make sure you have the right partners that share your vision.

As Sprouts Farmers Market continues to set itself apart from the retail pack, the dynamic makeup of its people, the diverse range of its vision, and the strength of its fresh strategy execution will continue to plant the seeds for growth and excellence. Robby Cruz knows this better than anyone—he gets up in the morning with a passion because of it.