2019 California Agribusiness Executive Seminar Case Studies

Controlled Environment Agriculture: Disruption in the California Leafy Greens Industry?

Ninety percent of the leafy greens consumed in the United States and Canada are grown outdoors in California and Arizona. In Monterey County, California alone, leafy greens are the highest value agricultural crop representing $830 million in revenue in 2017 (Monterey County Crop Report, 2017). In the same year, leafy greens were planted on more than 60,000 of the county’s 393,315 total acres. This crop alone fulfills about six months of the demand for both food service and retail in the U.S. and Canada.

The California leafy greens industry has faced a number of challenges in recent years. They include availability and cost of farm labor, increased government regulations, rapidly escalating outbound trucking costs, and highly publicized product recalls.

On top of these mounting challenges looms a new competitive threat for the leafy greens industry in California in the form of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) operations that are sprouting up in major metropolitan areas across the United States. Major investments in the space are coming from a number of private equity firms, as well as notable backers like Jeff Bezos, IKEA, and the crown prince of Dubai. The most recent farm bill has an allocation of funds to open the USDA Office of Urban Agricultural and Innovative Production. This is the first time the farm bill has allocated monies dedicated to indoor agriculture. Some analysts are estimating that over 50 facilities are open or under construction across the United States. Many of these operations are located in the Midwest or Eastern United States in close proximity to densely populated areas.

Case Executive: Marco de Bruin, Vice President, Revol Greens

Marco de Bruin is a third-generation owner-operator who grew up on his family’s greenhouse farm in the Netherlands.

He studied mechanical engineering, horticultural crop care, and horticultural business economics.

In 1993, he began working in the United States for Colorado Greenhouse, and later worked for Village Farms as well.

In 2000, he started working at Bushel Boy Farms, and became partner in 2002. In collaboration with his business partner, he improved the organizational structure, cut the energy usage in half, and increased the total acreage under glass from 10 to 20 acres, while simultaneously implementing supplemental lighting. His work with Bushel Boy Farms culminated in 2011 when they sold the company to an investment group.

He assisted with the transition to the new owners of Bushel Boy then, in December of 2013, he started his own consulting firm in horticultural services. His main focus is on crop consulting, growth planning, energy savings, efficiency analysis, and new project development. In 2017, he invested in Revol Greens, a leafy greens greenhouse, in Medford Minnesota. The idea is to make healthy, pesticide free, food accessible to the 99 percent.

In 2018, he started working with Equilibrium Capital on their Controlled Environment Foods fund. In this capacity he reviews potential projects on technological and financial feasibility.

Case Executive: Nick Houshower, Vice President, Controlled Environment Foods, Equilibrium Capital

Nick Houshower is a member of the Equilibrium Controlled Environment Foods team, and is a Principal in the Controlled Environment Foods Fund. Nick is focused on the development of Equilibrium’s partnerships with operators, offtakers, and suppliers in the controlled environment
foods sectors.

Previously Nick was a member of Equilibrium’s Product Development team, where he led the research, development, and fundraising for the Controlled Environment Foods Fund. Prior to joining Equilibrium, completed his MBA at Northwestern University, where his efforts focused on vertical farming, renewable energy (Lincoln Clean Energy), and the utility space (Exelon Corporation). Before Kellogg, Nick’s career was in Asia, where he established Thomson Reuters Government in Beijing and worked extensively on Chinese and Mongolian municipal finances and land reform policy. This work included managing the development and rollout of a digital land titling system for Mongolia (under the aegis of the US Millennium Challenge Corporation). Earlier in his career, Nick managed the China program for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (an independent urban development think tank), where he advised the Chinese government on property taxation, sustainable cities, and rural land reform. Nick also served as interpreter for a Sino-British documentary on Beijing’s Forbidden City.

In addition to his degree from Northwestern, Nick hold’s an M.A. in International Affairs and a bachelor’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C. He also speaks and reads fluent Mandarin Chinese.

Direct to Consumer Marketing: B Cellars, Charles Krug, and Baldacci Family Vineyards

Direct to consumer marketing is the wine industry’s fastest growing marketing channel. For many wineries, it is the primary (and in some cases only) channel to sell their products. Extreme consolidation among wine and liquor distributors combined with a legal framework in many states requiring a three-tier distribution system (winery – distributor - retailer) has limited traditional market access for many of the smaller wineries.  

Direct-to-consumer marketing relies on attracting visitors to the winery premises, selling wine on location, and establishing a longer term relationship with customers through winery club memberships. Historically, this was achieved by producing high-quality wines promoted by wine writers. But with nearly 10,000 wineries nationally and over 600 in the Napa Valley, competition for winery visitors and club memberships have become increasingly creative and intense. Today, many wineries are in a race to add increasingly creative attractions to the wine visitation experience. B Cellars, Charles Krug, and Baldacci Family Vineyards provide contrasting perspectives on how to compete in this growing agri-tourism market. 

Case Executive: Thomas Baldacci, Owner, Baldacci Family Vineyards

Wine has always been a part of Thomas Baldacci’s family. As a child on his grandfather’s farm in Clayton, CA, Thomas recalls being offered sips of semi-sweet Gewürztraminer while seated at the large family gatherings that occurred often. “Wine and family just go together for me. I can’t untangle one from the other,” says Thomas. Born the second of six children in the East Bay Area of Northern California, Thomas grew up surrounded by a loving and unusually close knit family. He attended the University of California at Berkeley as an athlete and there he honed his business skills.

His father started a real estate development enterprise, Castle Companies, that is now run by Thomas and his two brothers. The thrill of finding a piece of property and creating additional value either through development or preservation is an integral part of the company’s success. For all of his professional life, Thomas has identified a parcel’s untapped potential, developed it appropriately and then placed it on the market to be sold….that is, until he purchased the vineyard in the Stags Leap District of the Napa Valley. “I was certain that this parcel would be traded just like all of our other projects,” recalls Thomas. “I had a system and this was just another property that met all of my criteria. What I didn’t anticipate was my emotional reaction. I was bringing my wife and four young sons to the vineyard every weekend and I knew that I could create a legacy, a place for the next generations to gather and commune.”

Baldacci Family Estate Vineyards is now run by Thomas’ second son, Michael. The family does spend a lot of time at the winery and there are now two additional vineyards that have been added to the portfolio. The brand is well known for its outstanding single vineyard, 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon wines. And while Thomas is not on the property every day, it is the one project that he acknowledges he thinks about every day. This realization brings a bemused look to his face…he accepts that he has broken every rule of development by becoming attached to the property and now twenty years later, he is even more entrenched, even more committed to the next generation of family and friends who will continue to walk among the vines.

Case Executive: Kellie Duckhorn, General Manager, Baldacci Family Vineyards

The daughter of Dan and Margaret Duckhorn, Kellie moved to St. Helena in 1973 and grew up around her parents’ Napa Valley winery, Duckhorn Vineyards. At the age of 12, Kellie worked her first harvest, picking grapes at the famed Three Palms Vineyard and helping in the winery with bottling and labeling. In addition to being at the heart of California’s emerging wine industry, Kellie also had the opportunity to experience a French perspective on wine when she traveled to Bordeaux as a teenager to live with the Nadalié family of Tonnellerie Nadalié—an experience that heightened her understanding of the classic, European approach to wine. In 1982, this understanding of an old-world approach to winemaking was further enhanced when Kellie worked the harvest at Margaux’s revered Château

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, Kellie traveled extensively through Europe before returning to the United States, where she worked part-time at Duckhorn Vineyards while attending UC Davis to study Agricultural Economics. In 1991, she joined Duckhorn Vineyards fulltime, starting at an entry-level position and working her way up to vice president of marketing and sales.

With deep roots in the wine community, Kellie has remained in the Napa Valley holding wine related jobs including General Manager of Ehlers Estate and Director of Sales & Marketing for Via Pacifica, an import and distribution company based in Shanghai that was founded and run by her brother, David. She made her first trip to China, in April 2012 and says, “China is everything that you’ve heard it to be...only better!”

In January 2015 Kellie accepted the position of general manager for Baldacci Family Vineyards. Working alongside president and owner, Michael Baldacci, Kellie has helped to champion the winery’s three estate vineyards with special attention directed to the flagship Stags Leap District production and vineyard site. “The Baldacci Family is genuine in every sense of the word. They are focused on building a wine brand and a place for generations to enjoy the best of Napa Valley. Everything about this place feels exceptionally right!”

Case Executive: Duffy Keys, Owner, B Cellars Winery

Duffy Keys is an accomplished executive whose 20-plus years with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts provided him the platform to engage in a broad range of experiences and business development activities involving both the hotel management company and its branded residential business. As Senior Vice President, Duffy was responsible for many functional areas of the company during his tenure including Hotel Marketing, Hotel & Resort Development – Asia Pacific and Four Seasons Residence Clubs.

In 2003, with his business partner, Jim Borsack, Duffy co-founded B Cellars Winery, a boutique California wine venture producing some of Napa Valley’s finest wines. B Cellars commenced operations at its new, purpose-built winery in September 2014. B Cellars Vineyards and Winery is situated on the Oakville Cross Road in the epicenter of Napa Valley’s prized cabernet sauvignon country. B Cellars represents a new generation winery placing equal emphasis on delicious wine production and world-class, curated tasting experiences. We enjoy current accolades from Travel+Leisure (# 5 out of 25 “Americas Favorite Wineries"); #1 “Top Attraction Oakville” in Napa Valley – Fodor’s Travel Guide ; we are consistently in the #1 position at Trip Advisor among our 28 Oakville area wineries; and B Cellars was the lead winery in a July 2018, NY Times report: “36 Hours in Napa Valley." Additionally, among the most respected wine publications (i.e., Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator), our wines are consistently ranked at the higher-end of the ratings scale with many eclipsing the upper 90’s and a good number in the 98 to 100 point range.

Duffy holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and Hotel Management from Florida International University. In addition, he has completed the Viticulture and Enology 3 course offered through the University of California, Davis. After serving many years as an active member of the board, Duffy remains an Honorary Member of Board of Directors at Casa de Amparo, a California private, non-profit whose charter is the treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect. He also serves as a board advisory member on the Dean’s Advisory Board Council, Florida International University – Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. He and his wife Judy enjoy the best of both worlds sharing time at their home in Rancho Santa Fe, California and in Saint Helena, a community close to their Oakville winery.

Case Executive: Peter Mondavi, Co-owner, Charles Krug

Peter Mondavi Jr. is the second son of Peter and Blanche Mondavi and grandson of Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, the Napa Valley pioneers who purchased the historic Charles Krug Winery in 1943. As co-proprietor with his brother Marc, he works on issues of strategic importance, including stewardship of the family legacy.

Peter, born in 1958, grew up on the winery property. His education began at the winery, at a very young age, where he and Marc sanded fermenting tanks, unpacked glasses, worked in the winery’s laboratory and cellar, and drove tractors through the vineyards.

He may have started his education at the winery, but following in his father's footsteps, he attended Stanford University, earning a BS in mechanical engineering, an MS in engineering management, and an MBA a decade later. His engineering background has proved a valuable asset to the winery as he has directed a number of key design projects, including the development of a state-of-the-art winemaking facility. His business education has also greatly contributed to the development and execution of the company's long-term strategic plan. Peter spearheads the stewardship of the historic Charles Krug Winery and vineyards. Peter’s passion is working to reinforce Charles Krug Winery as one of Napa Valley's premier estates, centering on the family's tradition of innovation and quality.

Peter is a member of numerous wine- and food-related organizations, including the Wine and Food Society of San Francisco, Chaine des Rotisseurs (Ordre Mondial des Gourmets Dégustateurs) and the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. A prolific fundraiser, Peter has been in partnership with Morton’s and Mastro’s for more than ten years raising funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Peter is a former board member of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, Stanford Graduate School of Business Alumni Association (serving as President), Yountville Appellation Association, Bottlenotes Advisory Board and Family Winemakers of California. He keeps his academic ties alive as a guest lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Law School and School of Engineering as well as the UC Davis School of Law. He lives in Napa Valley with his wife Katie Williams-Mondavi. They have two children, a son Lucio who is a graduate student at Stanford and a daughter Lia who attends Harvard.

Farm Fresh To You: Evaluating Expansion Opportunities

Farm Fresh To You, the nation’s leading farm-connected food delivery service, provides local, organic produce and artisan groceries to consumers’ doorsteps throughout California. The firm was founded in 1976 and continues to be operated as a family business, with three of the original founders' sons currently running the business. They own and manage two organic farms, one in Northern California and the other in Southern California, as well as manage a number of strategic relationships with other farms and producers throughout the Western United States. The company has differentiated itself by use of in-house developed software which enables their many customers to customize their fruit and/or vegetable subscription to include more of those things they prefer, or exclude those less favored. This mass customization capability has lead to increased customer satisfaction and higher levels of customer retention. As of 2018, the farm has $80M in revenues and employs 800 people throughout the state.

The brothers are considering the development of a low-overhead geographic expansion model that could take the West Coast operational model and replicate it in any major urban location in the United States. The company needs to consider what aspects of the whole food system (supply chain) they would continue to control and operate vsersus what they would need to outsource to other third-party partners. To date, the business has been very careful to only include produce grown domestically, and in California in particular. Most other retailers are able to source cheaper produce by tapping into international markets such as China and Mexico.

Case Executive: Thaddeus Barsotti, Co-CEO

Thaddeus Barsotti was born on his family farm, Capay Organic, one of the first farms to be organic-certified in Yolo County near Sacramento. He holds a degree in Agricultural Engineering from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Barsotti’s parents began farming in 1976 and selling produce at farmers markets in the Bay Area, ultimately co-founding the well-known Davis Farmers Market.

Barsotti is co-CEO of Farm Fresh To You, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and home delivery service that provides fresh, local, organic produce to consumers’ doorsteps. Thaddeus also heads up farm management for Capay Organic and is active in growing and maintaining over 40 types (60 varieties) of fruit and vegetable crops. Farm Fresh To You delivers produce boxes directly to homes throughout the state of California.

Barsotti serves on the board of CCOF, a nonprofit organization that advances organic agriculture for a healthy world through organic certification, education, advocacy and promotion. He also serves on the board of the Davis Farmers Market.

Origin Green: Differentiating the Irish Food Industry

Origin Green is Ireland's national food and drink sustainability program. It is the first and still the only sustainability program that is run on a national scale, uniting government, private sector, and food retailers. Origin Green is applied across all sectors (dairy, beef, fresh produce, etc.) and all levels of the supply chain, including farm audits and third-party verified sustainability plans for processing firms and retailers. The objective of the program, which is administered by Bord Bia (Irish Food Board), is to make Irish food and drink more competitive in export markets. Since its launch in 2012, Origin Green has been widely adopted and today about 95% of Ireland's food and drink exports come from Origin Green verified suppliers. The Origin Green case will allow participants to discuss the viability of large-scale sustainability programs and the effort and actions required to bring public and private actors together to achieve a shared vision of differentiated production.

Case Executive: Tara McCarthy, CEO

Tara McCarthy is the Chief Executive of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board. She was previously Chief Executive for Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), Ireland’s seafood development agency. Tara brings with her over 20 years’ experience in the wider food industry. Tara has operated in overseas markets for 10 years in Germany, France and Belgium and holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree with an MBS in Marketing from Smurfit Business School. An affiliate of IMD Business School, Switzerland; Tara has been a regular contributor to the Government’s Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025 reports and succeeded in delivering a number of instrumental initiatives for the Irish Food Industry under the ‘Pathways for Growth’ programme. Ms. McCarthy was previously Director of the Food and Beverages Division in Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, and has led a team of Senior Executives on the development of the seafood, dairy, prepared foods; alcohol and small business sectors.

Raley's: Changing the Way We Eat

The U.S. supermarket industry is under tremendous pressure from new competitors such as Amazon and changing consumer preferences and behaviors. In this dynamic landscape, Sacramento-based Raley’s relies on its strong commitment to purpose to create a point of difference and build trust with employees, suppliers, and consumers. The family-owned chain, which has over 120 stores in California and Nevada, is committed to “infuse life with health and happiness, by changing the way the world eats, one plate at a time.” The Raley’s case study will explore key trends in the supermarket industry and the motivation, decision-making process, programs and practices of a purpose-driven organization. 

Case Executive: Keith Knopf, President and CEO

Keith Knopf joined Raley’s as Chief Operating Officer in 2015 and was named President & Chief Executive Officer in 2018. Knopf leads and oversees the company’s long-term strategy, while implementing Raley’s purpose to adapt their stores to help change the way their customers and the world eats, one plate at a time. Knopf is passionate about supporting Raley’s customers on their individual health journey. 

Knopf believes in servant leadership, supporting individual development to help unlock team members’ passion and purpose. He is involved in the community as an Executive Board member for the Bay Area Council. Knopf graduated from St. Louis University with a bachelor’s degree in finance, and earned a master’s degree in business administration. 

Knopf is recognized as a Fortune 200 leader with over 25 years of retail experience. He began his career with The May Department Stores Company, where he held leadership roles in store operations, merchandise planning, information technology, and finance. He led annual business planning and strategy for the Victoria’s Secret division of Limited Brands. Most recently, Keith led the retail operations and omni-channel store integration at Kohl’s. 

When not working, he and his wife Debbie spend their time hiking with their dogs and enjoying time with their two grown daughters and two grandchildren. 

Case Executive: Michael Teel, Owner and Chairman

The grocery business is in Mike Teel’s blood. As the grandson of Raley’s founder, Tom Raley, and the son of Raley’s second-generation leaders, Joyce Raley Teel and Jim Teel, he learned the grocery business from an early age. Today, he leads the largest family-owned company in the Greater Sacramento area with a sense of enthusiasm for the business and responsibility to the communities Raley’s serves. 

With his passion for empowering people to make sustainable and healthy food choices, Teel leads the company with a vision to infuse life with health and happiness, by changing the way the world eats, one plate at a time. He is committed to making a difference in the food system and strongly believes that the positive actions taken by Raley’s, in the name of health and wellness, will inspire a greater change in the overall food system. 

Teel started with Raley’s bagging groceries. After earning his bachelor’s in business administration from Whittier College, he became a store manager. He later led innovations in the Bakery and the company’s Bay Area expansion. In the 1990’s, he worked alongside executives, which prepared him for his senior leadership progression: Chief Operating Officer in 1995, President in 1996, and Chief Executive Officer in 1998. In 2002, Teel left the company to pursue independent business ventures, returning in 2010 as President & CEO. 

In 2015, the family transited ownership to Mike, with a goal of long-term family ownership. Teel is involved as a Board Member of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, a group of regional CEOs working to retain, attract, grow and create sustainable businesses and a founding member of the California Family Business Association. 

Taylor Farms: A Resource Allocation Challenge

Taylor Farms is a 24-year old, Salinas-based entrepreneurial food company that has expanded from the food service packaged salad business into retail packaged salads and vegetables and prepared foods. It has grown rapidly to today’s $3.7 billion in sales. The company’s historical success has been based on focusing on the customer, aligning itself with the industry leaders, strategically locating its processing capacity near its major customers, and delivering top-quality products in every category. In that process, Taylor has been a major change agent in each of its business groups. 

Today, company capacity constraints, changes in consumer preferences favoring healthy, fresh, convenient foods, changing customer demands, changing competitive landscapes, and rising production and distribution costs have opened a multitude of investment and growth opportunities for Taylor Farms that exceed its readily available capital. The Taylor Farms case explores these investment opportunities. 

Case Executive: Bruce Taylor, President

Bruce grew up in a Salinas Valley produce family and graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Business School. In 1981, Bruce joined Fresh Express and led the growth of foodservice fresh cut salads and retail bagged salad category. In 1995, Bruce and several financial and business partners founded Taylor Fresh Foods and Taylor Farms operating companies with Bruce as Chairman and CEO. Taylor Farms has grown to become North America’s largest producer of salads, fresh cut vegetables and healthy fresh foods. Headquartered in Salinas, California, Taylor Farms has 14 operating companies located throughout North America serving leading customers in foodservice, retail produce and retail deli segments and is proud to provide high quality, great tasting products to over 120 million Americans each week. Bruce and his wife Linda have four sons, Alex, Drew, Ted (Amy) and Bruce. Bruce currently serves on the board of Mission Produce and Western Growers Association and is Past Chairman of the Produce Marketing Association, Western Growers Association, National Steinbeck Center, Ag Against Hunger and YPO’s Barbary Coast Chapter.