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Wherever the Wind Blows: A Q&A With Karen Brux

Wherever the Wind Blows: A Q&A With Karen Brux

We are our experiences: How we emerge gives us both an awareness of what we are capable of and a roadmap to where we can improve. We use these gifts, unconsciously or consciously, as we move forward through our winding journeys. For Karen Brux, a woman who started out in a small Wisconsin village, the desire to try something different whisked her away to Taiwan for a decade before landing her squarely in fresh produce.

Whimsy met determination, and 30 years later, many seemingly random interactions have come together to form a beautiful lineage of experience that has enabled the Managing Director for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) to bounce from category to category, culture to culture, and not only assimilate, but help break barriers between markets.

Intrigued how all these pieces come together in such a fashion? Get a little cozier in your chair as I take you along a story worth knowing.

Melissa De Leon: For fun, let's start in the middle with how you ended up in Taiwan.

Karen Brux: I knew I wanted to study another foreign language beyond Spanish in college, but I wasn’t sure what. I remember looking at all the class options, and Chinese popped out at me for some reason. It certainly was different (who was studying Chinese in 1985?) and that led me down a path I would never have expected. I ended up going to Taiwan a couple of times during college, and then applied for a post-graduate program, expecting to be there a year. I stayed for ten.

Did I know what I was doing? No, I was maybe 22 at the time! But I was in the perfect place at the perfect time. There was so much trade going on and there were great opportunities for “foreigners” who were fluent in both Chinese and English. I learned things can fall into place as long as you follow your heart.

MD: Speaking of trade, did you dive into produce straight away? How did this path lead to a career in our industry?

KB: I never intended for Chinese to lead into the world of produce—I probably didn’t know what “produce” meant growing up, to be honest! I started working for a local sales promotion company helping write English proposals and translating for international clients, but also doing entry-level work of all kinds. It put me in a lot of different positions to meet people while I was learning a variety of skill sets. During this time, I met someone who was working for an international ad agency looking for an individual with sales promotion experience.

That’s how it all started. I was hired to work on the New Zealand Kiwifruit account specifically, which everyone now knows as Zespri.

MD: What were those early days like versus what you are doing now for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association?

KB: Well, after a few years, I was asked to open an office in Taiwan for the New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board. I was in my mid-twenties and didn’t really know if I was ready for it, but they believed in me, so I worked harder than ever and just figured things out! Some days I was in a suit meeting with agencies about marketing plans for Greater China, and other days I was walking through hot, smelly wholesale markets in a t-shirt and shorts, talking with everyone who was selling our fruit. There was no set pattern to my job…I just did what was needed to drive sales. But it was just one fruit that I was marketing. The role I have through the CFFA is completely different—so dynamic and ever-changing. Many in the industry have a segment or a category, but in my role I wear a lot of different hats, working with multiple categories throughout the year.

My challenge right now is to work wholly on each program while moving from category to category. I have been in this position now for eight years and am lucky to be working with a team in Chile that gives me a fair amount of autonomy to do what I think will be most successful. I’m also supported by amazing merchandisers and staff in North America.

MD: Has your approach to driving sales of Chilean fruit changed throughout the years? if so, How?

KB: The role has changed because the market has changed over the past several years. For example, there was a time where certain supply windows belonged to Chile, and that is no longer the case. Wholesalers, retailers, and everyone in the distribution of our fruit have options they didn’t have when I started, so promotions that used to be a lot more commodity focused are now transitioning to a brand focus. We are doing a lot more to connect both the trade and consumers with the country and the growers, and we’re telling the story of our fruit.

MD: How has your multi-faceted background helped you to tell that story?

KB: As a marketer, you need to ask yourself what you can talk about that’s different. Taste? Health? Great, but everyone else is also doing that. What are the points of differentiation?

When it comes to Chile, there’s a huge opportunity to showcase what makes it a natural choice for premium fruit. It’s an amazing country, but how much do people know about it? Before I even started working with the CFFA, we would host annual trips for produce buyers, but they’ve evolved into more than just business trips. We travel to places and arrange outings that really bring the people, the country, and the growing regions to life, creating an emotional connection with the Chilean fruit industry. How do we bring that feeling to the many industry members and consumers who can’t visit Chile? Social media has really helped us tell of that experience through short videos and stories.

“As a marketer, you need to ask yourself what you can talk about that’s different. Taste? Health? Great, but everyone else is also doing that. What are the points of differentiation?”

Karen Brux, Managing Director, Chilean Fresh Fruit Association

MD: Where would you say the fortification to face down so many unknowns has come from, and how would you advise budding produce professionals?

KB: Currently I’m going to a leadership class with my son, and the man leading the class continues to reinforce that success is 10 percent experience, 90 percent attitude—I think my attitude got me to where I am today. I’ll never forget what a former HR manager said to us: “If you’re gonna have a go, have a good go, because it might be the only go you get.” I’ve had a lot of people who have trusted me and empowered me to take things into my own hands, but I’ve also had the drive and determination to keep moving forward. “I can’t” is not part of my vocabulary.

As for what I would love to impart on others, do your best at whatever job you have, but also remember to take care of yourself. There was a period in my life where I forgot that, and when a job suddenly ended, I was lost. Also, when things get overwhelming, just sit back and breathe in and out. There’s really something to all these mindfulness classes my kids are getting in school!

MD: What is it about our industry that has kept you passionate about produce? Did you ever think of going to another industry?

KB: I did consider coming back to the U.S. in those initial years and going the corporate route, but I was happy where I was and wanted to continue down this path. I have been in the world of produce now for over 30 years, and I love promoting something that is fresh, healthy, and good for everyone. But to be honest, it’s the people that keep me here. I am continually grateful for the generous, kind-hearted people I’ve met in our industry and the great friendships I’ve built throughout the years. I never planned to be a part of this big family that is the produce business, but I love it.

Serendipity is a sweet wind, and if there is anything I have learned from this time with Karen, it is to go wherever that wind blows you. 

Wherever the Wind Blows: A Q&A With Karen Brux