Date: Jan 14, 2020
Magazine:
January/February 2020

Mary Thompson

CEO

Bonduelle Fresh Americas

Member Since 1973 (originally joined as Ready Pac)

Value-Added Pioneer Moving Forward Under New Banner

The Back Story: The Ready Pac brand was established about a half century ago as founder Dennis Gertmenian’s story of chopping, cleaning, and bagging lettuce from a bathtub is a well-known part of the value-added sector’s folklore. While the purchase by Bonduelle a couple of years ago has led to the re-branding of the title on the building—Bonduelle Fresh Americas—Ready Pac is still the brand on the product.

Single-serve bowls and other fresh vegetable and salad-meal solutions are at the core of its business. And it is the market leader in the single serve with protein sector. CEO Mary Thompson said the company’s primary goal has not changed since Bonduelle acquired it and that is to offer consumers healthy choices in both the meal and snack categories. She said the company continually looks at new opportunities including those in the “grab and go” category. Ready Pac’s signature Bistro Bowl is the company’s leading product, but Thompson said the value-added pioneer is exploring other options in which it can add healthy solutions for consumers—especially for working moms, which is a group that includes her.

Bonduelle’s Deep Roots: Bonduelle is a family business that was established in 1853. Its mission is to be the world leader in well-living through plant-based foods. Prioritizing innovation and long-term vision, the group is diversifying its operations and geographical presence. Its vegetables, grown on close to 300,000 acres all over the world, are sold in 100 countries under various brand names and through various distribution channels and forms.

Social Responsibility: While Bonduelle has navigated a seamless transition from Ready Pac with its basic product line, suppliers, and customers intact, the company has introduced a more robust social responsibility initiative. “That is something Bonduelle brought to the table,” said Thompson, noting that it strikes home for her. She revealed that all three of her children (teens or younger) are well-versed in the climate change issue, with her middle daughter being especially passionate about the concept. Seemingly, it is millennials and younger folks fueling the public consciousness, but 174-year-old Bonduelle is equally proactive.

In mid-October, Bonduelle Fresh Americas published its corporate social responsibility strategy, identifying the goals the company will target over the next five years. “We have long been committed to ensuring the well-being of people and our environment,” said Thompson in a press release. “Our company is driven by this commitment, and publishing these goals—and inviting our customers and consumers to join us on our journey—are exciting next steps for us.”

The goals support the objectives launched by Bonduelle in 2011 as part of its 2025 strategic vision. These objectives include promoting sustainable agriculture and reducing the firm’s environmental impacts, as well as feeding people well and feeding them sustainably. The updated strategic goals cover issues ranging from water use and packaging to human rights and labor. For example, the firm is planning to reduce water intensity and energy use by 25 percent in all of its production plants, achieve zero waste in all of its facilities, and transition to a packaging portfolio that is 100 percent recyclable, reusable, or compostable.

 

A Rural Urbanite: CEO Thompson has worked and lived near Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, and in England. But she was born in Texas, married a farm boy from Nebraska, and her family hails from the rural South. So she self identifies as both country and city.

Mary grew up mostly in Connecticut, the daughter of an engineer, and earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard in Boston before attaining her Masters at Columbia University in New York City. After college, she first worked for the East West Institute and then for Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. At both stops she wore the Director of Development title with the employment spanning several years at each place.

Lengthy Cargill Career: In total, Mary spent 25 years with Cargill, Incorporated, a global business with many entities, with its core focus being the trading, purchasing, and distribution of agricultural commodities. Her career included postings in executive positions for many of the entities and divisions, with more than a handful of years in the headquarters office In Minneapolis. That’s significant for many reasons, one of which is, she met her husband, Bob Knuth, there. “We joke that he grew up in Nebraska and I grew up in a suburb of New York City, so the only place we could have met is Minneapolis.” And, indeed they did at a dinner party.

But Thompson’s Cargill career continued unabated with senior positions in several of the company’s businesses, including, most recently, a three-year stint as president and managing director of Cargill Meats Europe in the United Kingdom.

She came to Bonduelle Fresh Americas from Cargill, moving to California and joining the value-added salad company in October of 2018.

The California Experience: Mary said her husband was in charge of the move from England to California and has been “the general contractor” in getting the family settled in their new environment. He soon will seek a return to the work force in the non-profit world, which has consumed most of his career.

“We are loving California,” Mary said. “There is so much natural beauty. Of course we knew about the ocean and the coast but the mountains are also stunning.”

The family lives in Pasadena with the San Gabriel Mountains overhead. “We are outdoor people and love the opportunities here including biking and running. We love to ski and in fact, went skiing on the Fourth of July.”

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