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Leadership is A Living Process: A Q&A with Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA

Leadership is A Living Process: A Q&A with Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA

Great leaders grow.

This is a phrase that’s been floating around my mind since I read Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s book by the same name many years ago. It perfectly summarizes the need for those in leadership positions to maintain an open mind, stay flexible, and continue to explore new ideas to fulfill their highest potential.

In the book, one of the main characters asks a question that is valuable to all leaders—and especially pertinent to our industry, which we know is in a constant state of evolution, ebbing and flowing with each passing day.

“Will you be a leader who is always ready to face the next challenge, or will you be a leader that tries to apply yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems?”

When I brainstorm a list of companies in fresh produce that fit the first definition, one immediately comes to mind: Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA.

Since its initial inception in 1949, the avocado maven has stayed on the cutting-edge of sustainable agriculture and has expanded its global footprint across several continents to provide the best quality products to its partners. In other words, the supplier has maintained steady growth for more than 70 years, always looking for the next branch it can climb in its mission to reach the top of the tree.

To learn how Westfalia reached its current perch, what challenges the company is taking on, and what strategies it has up its sleeve to make it to the next limb, I connected with Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA, a formidable leader in her own right.


Jenna Plasterer: Raina, seven decades in fresh produce is no small feat for any company. As the industry has grown over all these years, what differentiates Westfalia from the pack and makes it such a valuable partner for retail and foodservice buyers?

Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA: Partnering with Westfalia provides access to premium programs with unparalleled service and, arguably, the world’s most knowledgeable team of #avoexperts. Our avocado program literally begins with the seed because we want to ensure that the best fruit nourishes lives across the globe. Our vision is to make Westfalia fruit available to all plates, everywhere.

Westfalia is proud of our global footprint with the world’s most diverse avocado supply chain spanning several continents. Our exceptional supply chain ensures our customers receive the highest-quality fruit possible when and where they need it. We offer a unique experience when it comes to an avocado partner because our collective global knowledge and expertise provide an unmatched offering supported by the most innovative programs, from rootstock development to extraordinary service and premium fruit.

Our most important asset is our global team, which is more united than ever as we’ve successfully integrated our operations worldwide to optimize our avocado expertise. We are truly better together.


JP: Wow! It seems like Westfalia has its hands in just about every part of the avocado supply chain. Can you share more about your global supply chain and what goes into producing Westfalia avocados?

RN: We start in our nurseries, established across the world, which are fully accredited and recognized for providing premium-quality avocados. We have avocado estates located on continents including North America, South America, Africa, and Europe. Our avocados are grown and carefully evaluated for quality and maturity attributes before we hand-pick them from all of our orchards.

In addition to growing our fruit, Westfalia also sources, ripens, packs, processes, and markets quality avocados year-round, all in a sustainable manner. We are experts at ripening and marketing avocados, and retailers and consumers will surely benefit from the Westfalia difference in delivering an excellent product.

JP: While I can see Westfalia’s global presence is vital to the company’s value proposition, I also know its ethos makes it stand out. How would you describe Westfalia’s culture, and how does that impact your industry relationships?

RN: Our mission is to do good, and our corporate culture reflects that in all facets of our business. We always hold our values of quality, innovation, inclusivity, health and safety, and integrity in the highest regard, and we look to them as our guideposts.

We use these tenets to form incredibly strong partnerships with our customers and do successful business together—this has been our special recipe for success and has been effective worldwide.

Additionally, we are passionate about sustainability, which is something we won’t let take a back seat. We want to be the best stewards of the environment. We’re dedicated to actionable, sustainable practices to future-proof the avocado industry and are aligned and committed to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Overall, we aim to be carbon-neutral by 2049, which will be the best way to celebrate our 100th anniversary.


“Our most important asset is our global team, which is more united than ever as we’ve successfully integrated our operations worldwide to optimize our avocado expertise. We are truly better together.”

Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA


JP: That would be a huge milestone to celebrate alongside, well, another colossal milestone! With sustainability as such an integral part of Westfalia’s operations, how have you seen demand for sustainable practices grow, and what action is the company taking to meet that call?

RN: Demand is rising, and Westfalia is ready to meet it.

Our company is rooted in sustainability, and the vision of our Founder, Dr. Hans Merensky, has guided the success of these ever-evolving initiatives over the past seven decades, shaping the company’s environmental ethos.

We are wholly dedicated to producing safe, exceptional-quality fruit while ensuring sustainable, ethical, and responsible management of its bio-resources for the environment and communities in which we operate. Proactive steps are taken daily to achieve zero waste to landfill, carbon neutrality, and reduced pesticide usage on farms. At Westfalia, we are genuinely living out actionable sustainability—it’s our responsibility and thus why Westfalia is the first Fairtrade-accredited avocado supplier worldwide. Our comprehensive sustainability strategy prioritizes the environment, local economies, and, most importantly, our people.

An example of our commitment can be seen in our low-flow drip technology that uses small pipes to emit less than one liter of water an hour (per nozzle) and is just enough to replace what’s been lost through evaporation and transpiration. This not only saves water, but the technique improves the air in the soil and produces higher yields and healthier soils, allowing Westfalia’s growers to use up to 43 percent less water while also increasing the output and economic value of the fruit.

JP: Talk about the magic of science. That is a fantastic feat! Speaking of programs, what other areas is Westfalia currently focusing on, Raina?

RN: Currently, we are expanding globally and entering new markets, including India and other parts of Asia. We are also opening up new nurseries in emerging growing regions across the world to create a sustainable, quality supply of avocados, supporting that vision of providing a Westfalia avocado to every plate in the world.

In terms of product innovation, Westfalia is looking for creative ways to use the whole avocado for an array of value-added offerings.

Last but not least, we are expanding our ripening capabilities and capacities in the United States. By the end of 2022, we will double our ripening capacity in our Oxnard, California, location and incorporate the Westfalia ripening technology we utilize in other regions of the globe. This will support significant growth for our Deuces foodservice line and give our customers a highly customized ripening specification for the perfect piece of ripe and ready-to-use fruit.


JP: With so many exciting plans already underway, I can’t help but be curious about what’s on the horizon for Westfalia. Can you share any details?

RN: Right now, the company is focused on taking the avocado category into the future and breaking down barriers that customers and consumers find challenging. We will introduce new technology and innovation to our processes and products that will strengthen the Westfalia value proposition while remaining true to our sustainability initiatives. We have some exciting product development initiatives that will be ready to launch soon, transforming shelves and delighting dishes in 2023—stay tuned!

“At Westfalia, we are genuinely living out actionable sustainability—it’s our responsibility and thus why Westfalia is the first Fairtrade-accredited avocado supplier worldwide. Our comprehensive sustainability strategy prioritizes the environment, local economies, and, most importantly, our people.”


As Blanchard and Miller explain in Good Leaders Grow, leadership, whether in a relationship or an industry, means not resting on one’s laurels because leadership is not a title. Instead, leadership is a living process, and life is characterized by growth. If that is true, Westfalia is a perfect example of a leader, from the roots up, always daring to take the next step forward, always learning, and always searching for solutions to challenges that will help our industry and our world thrive. 

Leadership is A Living Process: A Q&A with Raina Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Westfalia Fruit Marketing USA