At age 25, Mackenzie Mills already has four years in the onion industry to her credit, but her involvement in produce is actually lifelong.
Growing up in Pilot Rock, OR, near Pendleton, Mackenzie spent her younger years “very involved in agriculture and farming,” she said.
Mackenzie told OnionBusiness.com, “My grandparents were hay farmers, and I was very active in FFA and 4-H and competed at national livestock judging competitions during my first two years in college at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton.”
While she was in high school, Mackenzie worked at a watermelon farm, her introduction to produce.
She later attended Oregon State University in Corvallis, and it during her senior year that she was introduced to the onion industry.
“My first job in the onion industry was for River Point Farms when I was a senior at Oregon State University,” she said. “I worked as an intern for Delbert Gehrke, who is our VP of farming operations. As a farm intern I was able to get hands on experience at that level, and my responsibilities included managing the harvest weigh scales, tracking tons harvested and assisting with managing harvest trucks to/from fields.”
That position – and her affinity for produce – paved the way to her current role, which is sales and account management.
“After my internship I worked harvest for a couple months before accepting a job in the sales department,” Mackenzie said of her progression from one position to another. “I started in sales as a sales assistant, then moved to a customer service representative, and then to current sales and account management.
Her responsibilities are multi, including “negotiating sales, drafting and finalizing contracts, quotes and bids for new business, managing national foodservice accounts, arranging transportation, and coordinating and scheduling orders with the River Point Farms’ fresh-cut processing plant and the dry onion packaging plant,” she said. She also works with California suppliers/shippers, and she handles contact management of customer accounts, organizing and managing the River Point Farms booth for the PMA tradeshows and oversees the RPF marketing/ social media.
Change, of course, is ongoing and fast-moving in the industry, and Mackenzie said she’s taken note of some of those changes in her time with River Point Farms. “
“Over the past few years I have noticed an increased demand for transparency with consumers,” she said. “More consumers/ customers are interested in learning about ingredients, sourcing details, and they want to feel good about the products that they purchase.”
She’s also noticed some new trends, and she said, “Just looking back at the new changes and trends over the past few years, it’s exciting to think about the future of the produce industry. In my opinion the biggest thing we will see is advances in the speed and efficiency in produce traceability.”
And when asked if RPF is looking at increased communication via social media this year and going forward, the Millennial Trailblazer responded, “Definitely! Connecting with our customers on social media and sharing our story is very important. I attended the United Fresh Brand Storm conference last fall, which is specifically for produce marketers. This was a great conference on marketing and current trends in the produce industry, including sales of packaged and value added, the movement to be healthy, more brand decisions to be made online vs. in store, NON-GMO, organic, and clean eating (concerns about additives and preservatives). All of these trends currently drive our products and marketing strategies.”
Mackenzie concluded, “As a Millennial I would say we have been shaped by technology more than any other generation. Growing up we had access to abundant information due to the Internet. In my opinion Millennials contribute by having a different outlook than previous generations – which is a big driver of change.”
She is also a solid communicator for the company’s year-round supply of onions, noting that River Point Farms grows and sell reds, yellows, whites, and sweets, and this fall the operation will also be harvesting organics.
RPF offers all types of whole, peeled and diced and sliced onions to various foodservice, industrial ingredient, restaurant chain and retail customers.
Check out our slideshow of our latest Millennial Trailblazer, Mackenzie Mills, River Point Farms