Leeann Bettencourt

NATIONAL SALES ACCOUNT MANAGER AT BONIPAK PRODUCE

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to the AgSnacc Podcast where we take a look at careers in agriculture and the journey toward those careers. I’m your host, Erin Gorter, and we hope you enjoy this tasty AgSnacc. 

 

Erin Gorter:

So today we are here with Leeann Bettencourt, the national sales account manager for Bonnie Pack Produce. Hello Leanne. How are you? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Hi Erin. Thank you for having me. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, thanks for being here. So, we like to start off with you describing to our audience, what you do for a living, and what a typical day looks like at work. 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Sure. Well as Erin mentioned, I'm the sales account manager for our national retail stores and that we supply here out of Bonnie Pack. Just to mention we are a grower/ shipper of fresh vegetables, so all your cauliflower, celery, broccoli, lettuces, and we also do some organics as well, that you would find in your national brand grocery stores: your Walmart, your Krogers, and Costco up and down the line. So here I do manage those accounts, which would be from a planning basis. You know we do plan for our customers, which you know takes a lot of time and planning, because you're planning for a crop that you're going to harvest six months to a year in advance. It really takes a lot of customer commitments as well as maintaining that customer relationship to maintain the business that you do have. And a regular day in the life is lots of emails, lots of phone calls and between 7:00 AM and 10:00 AM. It's usually just a madhouse in here. We have other sales account managers that are managing the wholesale markets, where they're doing day-to-day sales and trading. A lot of that is based on the USDA market pricing as well as our availability coming out of the field level. So, it's a lot of catch up, a lot of, you know, problem solving as it comes. No day is the same. Lots of planning and organizing. Yes, trying to stay organized. Trying to stay on top of the emails, because by 7:00 AM, I'm usually 80 deep in emails. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Super fun! 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Yeah! 

 

Erin Gorter:

So another thing we like to do here is kind of find out a little bit about your life growing up, so if you could tell us a little bit about your high school experience, specifically any sports, extracurricular activities, you were involved in, special classes you took in high school? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Sure. I was involved in sports. I played four years of volleyball, swimming, and I maintained 4H through high school as well. I think I was in 4H for a total of nine years. My high school did not have FFA program in house, so I stayed on the 4H level. I did leadership through my 4H club as well. Then in high school I was really active in a lot of clubs. I was on our senior retreat team, which is kind of like a pre leadership program within the high school, where you kind of mentor your underclassmen. And so again I stayed really active. I lived an hour away from my high school, so I'm not quite sure how I got it all done. I look back and I'm like: “wow”. It's kind of exhausting to think about, but yes somehow, I managed an I am very grateful for everything that I was involved in.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Cool. So, when you were in high school, I guess the question is: what did you want to be when you grew up? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Well I went to Cal Poly as a nutrition major, and it was a new department at Cal Poly, kind of new major within the west coast schools. And you know, it was the time where these studies were coming out about health adversities related to obesity. Over 60% of our population was identified as obese, and so I really kind of homed in on that being different. I actually went to college stating to myself: the last thing I want to do is go into ag business. Just because I grew up in such a, I grew up in the Salinas Valley, which is very ag centric. I love the ag industry. I didn't think I wanted to be in the produce industry. Yeah. 

 

Erin Gorter:

So, what did you specifically want to do in nutrition? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

So, I wanted to be like a nutritional advisor. Absolutely loved my major, all of the classes that's a lot of science. I graduated with a major in nutrition and a minor in food science and realized that I did not want to go to nursing school or more school to become a dietitian. So, I kind of went backwards, but I still absolutely loved the choice that I made, going into nutrition, and everything that I learned is very application based.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Then you graduated with this degree nutrition and minor and didn't want to go to graduate school. How do we get to where you are today? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Well, I kind of had to backpedal. And you know, I mentioned I didn't want to go into agribusiness. I didn't think that, you know, I would end up at a produce company, but I needed a job and I was semi familiar with the produce industry. My stepfather worked as a salesman for tomatoes his entire career. So, I didn't want to go back to the Salinas Valley. I stayed. I'm a half hour South of San Luis Obispo now, and I just applied. I applied starting as an intern, so entry level, and here we are 12 years later. 

 

Erin Gorter:

That's crazy. You're one a couple people that I've interviewed that, this is like first job and they've been here the whole time. So, that's cool that you started as an intern 12 years ago and here you are today, selling produce to some really big companies. So, that's cool. How was education and work life viewed in your household when you were growing up? And how did that influence your career path? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Sure. My parents were very supportive, and I think a lot of the drive came from me internally. I don't ever remember my family sitting me down and saying you better do this; you have to do this. I think it was just inferred that, you know, I was going to go to college, and it was never really a question or discussion. But again, very supportive. Yeah, my parents were there, or my mother and my stepfather were there every step of the way. I had grandparents that would, you know, come to like, you know, any sort of service where maybe I had like a one sentence line, where I was going to get up and speak. So very supportive, and sports as well. Pretty much anything when I got into. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Cool. So okay, thinking about your workday now, what is your favorite part about the day? I doubt it's waking up to the 80 emails, but what is like the cool part about your day? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

The cool part about my day… I sit by the window and I literally watched, all day long, reefer trailers come in and load and go down the road. And I know that that produce is leaving here and going to Florida to East Coast, Canada to New York and all-over North America. It will end up in someone’s refrigerator and that they are going to eat something nutritious. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Fun. What is the most challenging part about your day?  

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Between just staying organized, and keeping on top of the workload, you know, I have a really close relationship with my customers where I don't see myself as a salesperson. I see myself as someone that they trust, an advises them on their, you know, their supplies and their business. So usually anytime I have to cancel orders, or you know go back and change things that we had previously committed to, I take that very seriously. That is the hardest part for me. 

 

Erin Gorter:

I bet. That can be hard in any situation, in the business of producing and managing and marketing the distribution of food, and you even have a nutrition background too. So, what is your favorite agricultural commodity? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

My favorite commodity. Gosh from what we grow, I would probably say Brussels sprouts are my favorite. 

 

Erin Gorter:

I love Brussel sprouts! 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Yeah, they're fun! We started our program about three years ago, and yeah, I mean I'm very lucky. Every meal at home growing up, we had a protein and a vegetable, so I learned to love my vegetables very early on.  

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah Brussels sprouts. My husband doesn't like Brussels sprouts but I always tell him, one day ,when he grows up, he’ll love it too. Good for you! You mentioned you started as an internship out of college at Bonnie Pack. Can you think of any internship type opportunities or maybe volunteer or job shadow opportunities that might be available, not just at Bonnie Pack, but other produce companies, that high school students might be able to get involved in to learn more about your line of business? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Yeah, you know we do tours here; if someone was very interested, they could come in and sit with us here in the office a couple of days. It's really difficult because our business moves so quickly. Jobs are hard because you have to be here full time. It's very hard to have part time work available. Yeah but we really want to encourage people to look into this type of career and kind of give them a preview of what it's like the day-to-day basis, just to see if it's something that they're really interested in. 

 

Erin Gorter:

You mentioned everything like moves quickly. What do you think will be the biggest changes, in your industry, in your profession, in the next 20 years?  

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Sure. Definitely technology. I mean people tend to think of farming as very traditional, old school, but the technology is moving at a very fast pace these days. Where we're looking at automated harvesters. You know, we have very advanced programs in place for trace ability. We've hired more IT people here than we have salespeople because we need to constantly be on the forefront of those programs. Agriculture isn't just sales. It isn't just, you know, the farming aspect. We have drones that are helping us to, you know, really view a field and to determine a yield that's more accurate than someone on the ground walking a field. So, you start thinking all of all those aspects and you think, you know, “oh wow that's really interesting. I didn't know that was part of agriculture”. I think that's really important for younger people these days. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Yeah, lots of opportunity. And like, I think about it. There's stuff we don't know about yet that, in 20 years, it could, like, play a part, and so we can start developing some of those skills like we’ll be… 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Someday someone could like, develop a robot that will replace me; make all of my decisions.  

 

Erin Gorter:

No one can replace you! All right. Last question here. Thinking in your career now, if you could go back to high school, Leeann, what would you tell yourself? 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Trust your instincts and be more confident in your own thoughts. That's something that I really struggled with. It took my mentor here telling me multiple times: you have good instincts, you need to act on them, don't worry, we're going to work it out. Yeah, I think I would be more confident. 

 

Erin Gorter:

Good, good advice. Well thank you Leeann. Again, this is Leeann Bettencourt, the national sales account manager for Bonnie Pack Produce. Thank you for visiting with us today. 

 

Leeann Bettencourt:

Thank you everyone. 

 

Thank you for listening to this AgSnacc, a production of the Brock Center for Agricultural Communication at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the South Coast Region Agricultural Education Consortium. For more information, please visit our website at www.agsnacc.com. That’s www.a-g-s-n-a-c-c.com.