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Leadership Class #26

Sonya Carrillo
Director of Product Management
Wonderful Citrus

Sonya Carrillo is the Director of Product Management for Wonderful Citrus where she leads a cross functional team to optimize supply chain planning for the organization. The cross functional teams include harvest, production, quality and sales with respect to product profitability and plan execution. Her team is responsible for establishing and adjusting the necessary operational plans to meet targeted net revenue for all varietal programs. This includes developing and maintaining medium to long term product plans, financial analysis and special projects as needed by the business. The various roles she has held over her nearly eight-year tenure with the company have afforded her a unique opportunity to develop her strategic planning and implementation skills. Sonya has a BA in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara and an MBA from Cal State Bakersfield.

Travis Catalani
Vice President of Sales
Catalani, Inc.

Travis Catalani is the director of sales at B. Catalani Inc. based in San Antonio, Texas. He primarily focuses on maintaining and building relationships, but is also responsible as a buyer of several different commodities. While Travis may have started his full time career at B. Catalani 12 years ago, he has grown up around the industry his entire life. Travis is the 4th generation of the Catalani family to share the focused commitment to provide produce that meets the highest standards of quality, service that exceeds customer expectations, and an operation that is exceptional in its attention to every detail.

Kyle Hackett
Dayka & Hackett

Kyle began his produce career palletizing at the age of 14 at a fresh produce cold storage in Reedley, CA. After graduating from California State University Fresno with degrees in Economics and Accounting Kyle spent three years at a Big 4 CPA firm in the Silicon Valley. Today Kyle is responsible for operations and finance at Dayka and Hackett, LLC. He enjoys taking ideas and turning them into viable business opportunities. Kyle serves as a board member on the California Fresh Fruit Association and as a Co-Chairman on the Boys and Girls Club Harvest Festival Gala. Kyle lives in Clovis, CA with his wife and daughter.


John Haycox
Buyer – Produce Department
Costco Wholesale

John Haycox is Buyer in the Produce Department at Costco Wholesale, currently overseeing the Tropical and Ethnic categories. Prior to his current buying responsibilities, previous categories he bought for Costco include Potatoes, Onions, Stonefruit, Cherries, Hothouse, Vegetables, and Mushrooms. Starting his career at the very first Costco warehouse in Seattle back in 1998 while earning his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Washington, he transferred to the home office in 2001 in the Produce department. He has been in the produce department ever since, from Inventory Control Specialist in 2001, Assistant Buyer in 2006, and Buyer in 2012. He is passionate about food, wine, and family, and brings that passion to his work at Costco. A native of Western Washington, John lives near the home office, in the town of North Bend (where Twin Peaks was filmed), with his wife Erica and their two children Declan and Eleanor.

Austin Kirtley
Co-Founder/Managing Partner
Kesi Management

Proven leader and expert in Food & Manufacturing operations, financial strategy, and supply chain optimization. Austin’s experience includes partnering in and with a variety of different companies and industries including perishable, 3PL, Supply Chain Logistics, SaaS, Food Warehousing, Food and Beverage manufacturing, Food safety and more. Austin’s personable nature and ability to connect the dots for clients in order to remove barriers and realize success is his greatest strength.

With over 10 years of experience within produce and perishable food operations, Austin spent his career prior to KESI in roles of operations and supply chain. Having worked with some of the largest produce companies in the country to drive bottom line profitability through a variety of projects, his driving methodology of connecting all aspects of the business has continued to build foundational success for KESI’s clients.

Austin holds an MBA from Anderson University and a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University – Kelley School of Business. He currently resides in the suburbs of Indianapolis with his wife and two kids.


Meaghan McGrath
Director of Product Development
Local Bounti

Meaghan is the Director of Product Development at Local Bounti, an innovative controlled environment agriculture company growing delicious produce locally. At Local Bounti, Meaghan focuses on expanding the company’s product portfolio and supporting its commercial expansion.

Meaghan has worked in various functions within the produce industry including commercial strategy, business development, and investments. Prior to Local Bounti, Meaghan worked at Plenty and Agriculture Capital/AC Foods. At Plenty, she focused on new products and strategic partnerships, including Plenty’s partnerships with Albertsons and Driscoll’s. While at AC, Meaghan led marketing and long-term strategy for two of the firm’s core business units: blueberries and hazelnuts.

Meaghan graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and received an MBA/MEM from Yale’s School of Management and School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She currently lives in Idaho and is relocating to Hamilton, Montana for her new role with Local Bounti. She and her husband enjoy skiing and exploring the outdoors with their dog Sadie.

Kathy Michael Sponheim
Michael Family Farms

Kathy Michael Sponheim is a co-owner and manages sales, marketing and administration at Michael Family Farms. Kathy’s passion for agriculture started at a young age while working on the family farm. She graduated from The Ohio State University with a degree in Agribusiness & Applied Economics and Agronomy. Prior to coming back to the family business, Kathy spent 11 years at John Deere; roles included tactical sales, dealer development, new product development, and territory sales management. In her current role she manages retail and foodservice customer accounts, marketing execution, and ensures a focus on the total solution from dirt to dining table. As a 4th generation member of the family potato business, Kathy is passionate about the produce industry, feeding people high quality fresh food and hopes to grow the operation, enabling a potential 5th generation return to the farm. She enjoys spending time with her husband and two daughters taking on new adventures together.

William Nardelli Jr.
Vice President of Sales
Nardelli Brothers

William Nardelli Jr. is Vice President of Sales at Nardelli Bros. Inc.- Lake View Farms. He is the 5th generation to work in the family business which started in 1898. Company grows and ships over 80 commodities of fresh vegetables with main farm in Cedarville, NJ and partner growing operations in Florida and Georgia allowing for 52 week supply. Upon graduation from University of Delaware in 2011 where he majored in Food and Agribusiness Management with minors in Food Marketing and Economics he assumed a full time position at family business. He has worked in all aspects of business over his lifetime from field through packaging into his current role handling Sales and Marketing.

In his spare time he enjoys golf, boating and traveling

Rachelle Schulken
Marketing Event Manager
Renaissance Food Group

Although she grew up in an agricultural town, Rachelle Schulken did not realize she would eventually come to make a career working with the same fruits and vegetables that surrounded her hometown. It was not until she joined Calavo’s Renaissance Food Group (RFG) division in 2009 that she realized the produce industry offered more than just a job; it became a family, a community, and a home.

Rachelle obtained her B.A. in General English from California State University, Chico, and relocated to Folsom, CA, where she began her tenure with RFG. She has been on the Marketing team for the majority of her time with the company, coordinating and managing trade shows, managing design and branding, interfacing with trade media, fostering positive company culture, and managing Calavo and RFG’s sustainability and social responsibility program.

She believes strongly in giving back to the industry through serving on volunteer boards and committees. Rachelle currently sits on the Fresh Produce & Floral Council (FPFC) Board of Directors and chairs the FPFC Apprentice Program, from which she graduated with the inaugural 2014 class. In addition, she serves on the PMA Sustainability Committee and the Center for Growing Talent Women’s Fresh Perspectives Advisory Committee. In 2016, Rachelle received the Produce Business 40 Under Forty award.

Rachelle is passionate about fundraising through the industry for City of Hope and has completed a handful of marathons with the Northern California Food Industries Circle team. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her husband and pup, running along the trails in Folsom, and cooking healthy and delicious food with the many fruits and vegetables she continues to be surrounded with every day.

Jeremy Taylor
Vice President Sales & Marketing
DNO Produce

Jeremy Taylor is a fresh produce expert and professional. In 2010 at age of 18, Jeremy Taylor f founded a food delivery platform connecting restaurants to people in offices and at home, nearly 7 years before DoorDash or UberEats would come to Columbus. In 2012, Jeremy Taylor went on to serve as the Director of Customer Experience for Azoti, an online marketplace to connect large employers to fresh produce, meat and dairy as an employee benefit. Jeremy was responsible for partnerships with The Ohio State University, Cardinal Health, State Farm Insurance and Battelle. In 2015, Jeremy joined DNO Produce. DNO Produce is a fresh produce wholesaler, processor, trucking company and nationwide broker of fresh fruits and vegetables. DNO serves such clients as Kroger, Giant Eagle, GFS, SYSCO and Home Chef. DNO is well known for it’s work in K-12 as a leader in fresh produce offerings for students.

Jeremy Taylor has also served as the Young Professional Committee Chair for the Franklin County Local Food Action Plan and currently plays a strategic role in connecting low-income neighborhoods to fresh food. Jeremy was awarded the Freida Kaplan Scholarship Award from United Fresh in 2018.

Joseph Vargas
Director of Marketing and Analytics
FirstFruits Marketing

New to the produce industry in 2016, Joe Vargas’ fresh approach is due in part to unique skills amassed through his varied lines of work including golf professional and tech sales. Early on in his career, Joe recognized the opportunity to drive change through data, and thus sought an advanced degree in data analytics.

Currently he is the Director of Marketing and Analytics at FirstFruits Farms in Central Washington. In this role, he leads the business development team, develops marketing strategy, and drives business intelligence and category management for FirstFruits. Joe also enjoys his time teaching data analytics classes at Central Washington University. With a rapidly changing produce landscape, Joe believes that an innovative business intelligence strategy will be the driving force in creating generational success.

Jennifer Velasquez
Director of Marketing
Full Tilt Marketing

Jen excels in client relations and has built her career in the fresh produce industry over the past 15+ years with her bilingual graciousness and can-do attitude. Throughout her career, Jen has been a project and account manager on campaigns for commodity boards (the Chilean Avocado Importers Association, Produce for Kids, Georgia Pecan Commission, Georgia Blueberry Growers Association and the Vidalia Onion Committee, Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, North Carolina SweetPotato Commission), and brands (WP Rawl, Titan Farms, Giorgio Fresh, The Walt Disney Company) where she worked to increase consumer awareness both in print, online and instore. Additionally, she works with produce brands to rebrand and create packaging and point-of-sale materials leading to increased brand awareness in-store as well as online. This helped such brands to meaningfully connect with consumers before they even set food in a retail store. Jen is a cultivator of strong media and trade relationships and is a successful events and promotions expert. She is seen by her peers and clients as an optimistic and authentic communicator. Jen earned a BA in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs from Southern Methodist University with a minor in International Studies and a Concentration in French. She speaks Spanish, English and French and is based in Tampa, Florida.


For questions about the Produce Industry Leadership Program, contact Amanda Griffin, Vice President, Education and Program Management, at 202.303.3412.