Mann Packing Company
WG Member since 1946
BACKGROUND: More than 80 years ago, H.W. “Cy” Mann, who was raised in Southern California, the son of a car dealer/politician, graduated from Stanford University and headed south to Salinas looking for work. It was the height of the Great Depression and there were not a lot of jobs to be found. However, production agriculture did offer promise and Cy Mann saw an opportunity to become a grower-shipper. He served an apprenticeship with a lettuce firm and in the mid-1930s started a company with his brother, Art. That firm didn’t take hold, but Cy started again in 1939 by launching the H.W. Mann Company on his own. He started out with carrots and green onions but soon saw the potential in broccoli and switched to that crop. While D’Arrigo Bros. had introduced broccoli to the Salinas Valley in the 1920s, almost everyone else saw iceberg lettuce as their key to success. Mann apparently figured that if everyone was growing lettuce, he would have less competition being in the broccoli business. For the next 40+ years, Mann was primarily a broccoli grower-shipper with a significant portion of its production going to the freezer business.
A MONUMENTAL PARTNERSHIP: When talking to the various generations of Mann Packing leaders and employees that have worked for the firm for many years, they each point to Mr. Mann as an innovator and somewhat of a visionary. But perhaps his greatest skill was his ability to read people because, without a doubt, his smartest business move was to offer Bill Ramsey and the late Don Nucci partnerships in the venture. In 1955, after serving in the military, Ramsey joined the firm as a fieldman, and would never leave. Several years later, Don Nucci came aboard as office manager. When Cy Mann cut back his duties to tend to an ailing wife, his eventual co-partners and the future owners of the company were ready to take charge. The trio were in partnership for many years, but eventually Nucci and Ramsey bought out the Mann Estate.
Today, Bill’s son Dick and Don’s daughter, Lorri Koster, serve as co-chairs of the Mann Packing Board of Directors. Lorri additionally wears the chief executive officer’s hat. And they also roughly serve in the same lineage as their fathers with Lorri working sales and marketing and Dick involved in field work and production.
They head an impressive list of Nuccis and Ramseys involved in the organization. Don Nucci died almost a decade ago though Bill still comes into the office often.
INNOVATIONS AND FORTUITOUS STEPS: Mann Packing was one of the first firms to use liquid ice to shed pack fresh broccoli. That innovation basically brought broccoli from the shadows to a starring position in the vegetable lineup. “Mr. Mann had great ideas about equipment. He was very innovative,” Ramsey said. Mann Packing pioneered a harvester in the field as well as other equipment that made for the efficient harvesting and packing of broccoli.
Ramsey credits a misstep to leading to another company innovation. As one of the top several West Coast broccoli shippers, Mann was going full bore with the commodity in 1982 when it completed a state of the art packing facility in Salinas. “We had 40 growers and about 14,000 acres of broccoli,” said Ramsey.
The only problem is that at that exact same time, others were working on an innovation to allow for the icing and packing of broccoli in the field. Although building that plant seemed to be a gigantic blunder, Ramsey believes Mann Packing would not be around today if it didn’t make that mistake.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he says.
Mann began to use the plant to pioneer value-added broccoli products which soon expanded to other commodities and packs. The company jumped into value-added production and continued to thrive.
A GROWER PARTNERSHIP: It was about this same time that Mann Packing forged a partnership with longtime grower Tony Costa. The Costa family had long grown broccoli for Mann Packing, but it marketed its green onions and mixed leaf items with another marketer throughout the ‘70s. By 1982, Costa had his own label — Mr. C’s Finest — and needed help selling the production. Mann Packing stepped in and expanded its product line. That began the diversification of the firm’s product line that has guided it for the past 30 years, and helped Mann Packing thrive into the new millennium. The Costa family continues to be Mann’s most important and largest grower. They have been the innovators in the field as Mann Packing has diversified and added to their portfolio of products.
DIFFICULT TRANSITIONS: It hasn’t all been a bed of roses for Mann Packing. The company very successfully transitioned to the second generation in the 1990s. Dick Ramsey followed his father into the business, first serving on the sales desk and then transitioning into production. His brother Jeff also joined the firm in the production end of the business and today runs Mann’s sweet potato production in the San Joaquin Valley. Don’s oldest child, Joe, entered the firm on the sales side, followed by his sisters, Lorri and Gina. Joe became CEO in 2001 and helped guide the firm through some very difficult financial times that Bill Ramsey said came about because of over-aggressive planting of broccolini. By all accounts, Joe—and the other family members in that generation — were doing an excellent job of righting the ship before he tragically died at the young age of 40 in 2005. His father also died prematurely a year later…and more leadership changes were in the cards.
FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT: After the tragic death of Joe Nucci, longtime employee Mike Jarrard stepped in to lead the charge. Today he is Mann Packing’s president and a very valued member of the leadership team. Jarrard credits Joe Nucci with building an excellent team in the decade surrounding the new millennium and said the talent now running the firm is top notch. He said Mann Packing has built itself into a very diversified organization with both commodity and value-added products, and retail and foodservice business. Product development is the key to staying ahead of the curve. According to Jarrard, each year, the firm has the goal of introducing three new products on the retail side and two new items in the foodservice arena, as well as tweaking existing SKUs if needed.
Bill Ramsey looks at this group, and the following generation, with both pride and trepidation. “We are entering unchartered territory,” he said, noting that third generation shippers are few and far between. “I look back at all the big companies that were around when I started and there are only about four of us left.”
To an outsider, each of the Nuccis and Ramseys from the first generation to the third, sing the same tune. The relationship between the two families has been stellar. Each member has found a role over the years that seems to fit their style with no overt competition for specific positions or authority. Just as Bill and Don were happy being the “field guy” and the “office guy”, current co-chairs Lorri and Dick possess similar roles and seem to have similar dispositions. Gina Nucci is very happy in her foodservice position and expressed only gratitude that her sister was able to step up and be a strong executive when tragedy struck. Others expressed the same feeling and noted that as the next generation settles in, they expect similar very good working relationships.
The board consists of its co-chairs as well as representatives of each family and non-family member participation. Lorri says there are just no issues with everyone being on the same page virtually all the time.
One thing made clear was that no family member is pushed into the industry nor are jobs created for them. Any member wanting to come into the business must take a position that is open.
Gina Nucci said it is an interesting dynamic being both an employee at Mann Packing and an owner. Her business card gives her foodservice department title as well as the owner designation. “Of course, we put that on the cards because customers love dealing with owners.“
WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION: Mann Packing has had a close relationship with Western Growers for most of its 75 years in business. The firm joined the organization in 1946 and Cy Mann served on the board of directors from 1961 to 1967. A decade later — in 1978 — Bill Ramsey was elected to the board of directors for the first time and he soon became an influential member working his way through the officer slots, becoming chairman in 1994. He stayed on the board for 20 years.
In 2007, Jarrard was elected to the board and served as chairman in 2012, after also moving through the officer ranks. He remains on the board today.
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