Bill Brooks, Rene van Rems honored at FPFC Expo
Two longtime Southern California produce and floral veterans — Bill Brooks of Westlake Produce Co. and Rene van Rems of Rene Van Rems International — were awarded the prestigious annual achievement awards for their respective industries by the Fresh Produce & Floral Council at its annual FPFC Expo on April 6.
The awards were presented at the opening breakfast of the event, which was being held for the first time since 2019 because of the coronavirus cancellations in 2020 and 2021. This year’s show featured 125 booths with almost 1,000 attendees, which included more than 400 retailers from produce vice presidents to buyers to merchandising executives to front-line personnel from the retail produce community. Supermarket representatives, mostly from the various regions of California and including chains and many independents, roamed the aisles bringing a sense of normalcy to this in-person show, which is the longest-running regional produce and floral show in the country. In one form or another, the FPFC has been hosting at least one show — and sometimes two — since the 1970s. As has traditionally been the case, exhibitors donated about 8,000 pounds of food to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County at the close of the show.
Lisa Leslie, an outstanding basketball player who was one of the top stars in the Women’s National Basketball Association at its outset, gave an inspirational talk about her story and how she has been able to achieve so much on and off the court over the past 30 years. She talked about all the people and events that inspired her throughout the years, but it clearly came down to her belief that she has outworked her peers throughout that time frame. She called herself a “goal-setter” who has methodically written down where she wants to go and what she wants to achieve and then set about to accomplish those goals. Besides having extraordinary basketball success since taking up the sport at age 12, the six-foot, five-inch superstar also towers over her peers in the business world. Currently, she is excelling in the real estate investment world helping other athletes invest their money wisely.
The show also featured an opening presentation by Todd Linsky, who is a consultant and produce podcaster. Linsky, who also had a long career in produce sales, told the audience that now is the time to capitalize on the events of the day to reinvigorate the sales and consumption of fruits, vegetables and flowers. He said concerns over health during the COVID-19 pandemic gave produce and floral products a boost and it is incumbent on all members of the industry to prevent sales from sliding back, as they have done at other times of rising inflation. He said all sellers of these items should be constantly promoting fresh produce and flowers and coming up with new ways to increase consumption.
Kent Kuwata of the Smart & Final supermarket chain made the presentation to Brooks and called out his unending service to the industry, though he always accomplishes that effort in an understated way. Brooks has been in the industry for more than 50 years and can always be counted on to land a hand and lead by example. Kuwata said, “Bill has a track record of giving back both financially and with his time.”
Brooks accepted the Norman H (Buz) Bolstad Award via a live video from a boat in the Virgin Islands where he was vacationing with his family.
Van Rems has been a mainstay at FPFC floral events for decades teaching hundreds of floral designers about the latest trends and newest tricks in presenting flowers in the best possible light. He has written books on the subject and continues as a sought-after consultant in the flower world. Previous winner Jason Kendall of Kendall Farms presented the FPFC Floral Achievement Award to van Rems calling him “a world renown floral ambassador.” Van Rems, who hails from the Netherlands and its well-known leadership role in flowers, came to the United States many years ago to lend his floral expertise to this country’s suppliers and retailers.
Photo: Keynote speaker Lisa Leslie, an outstanding basketball player who was one of the top stars in the Women’s National Basketball Association at its outset, with Kent Beesley and Mike Krage of the Idaho Potato Commission.