New Dave's Specialty Imports VP, Leslie Simmons, Talks Growth in Offerings, Food Safety, and Differentiation

Fri. June 3rd, 2016 - by Jordan Okumura-Wright

MIAMI, FL - It has been a busy year for Dave’s Specialty Imports as fresh produce demand continues to grow and the company cultivates its ever-expanding program. On the front lines of that growth has been Leslie Simmons, previously Marketing Manager of Dave’s Specialty Imports, who has been named Vice President of the company. On paper, her new role was made effective this year, but Leslie has been actively working behind the scenes for the last few years, becoming more involved in operations and weighing in on the future direction of the company.

Leslie Simmons, Vice President, Dave's Specialty Imports“My particular efforts have focused on increasing our organic berry programs as well as formalizing our food safety, traceability, and recall programs,” Leslie tells me as we discuss what her role entails and how she is helping to drive the business forward. “Becoming Vice President strategically solidifies my efforts over multiple areas of our business. I will continue to strengthen our food safety and traceability initiatives, oversee sales and operations, and develop our new business opportunities. As the third generation in a family business, it is critical to touch and understand every part of what we do.”

She adds that it requires becoming more than a manager. It requires becoming a leader, a mentor, and a visionary. “I hope to push our business forward by asking the hard questions and continually learning,” Leslie adds.

Dave's Berries

Leslie came into the industry after having worked several years in advertising and marketing in New York City. She was an Account Supervisor when she left advertising and transitioned into Dave's as a Marketing Manager. While her day-to-day work predominately focused on marketing, strategy, event planning, and new business development; Leslie quickly jumped into learning about sales, operations, food safety, and traceability.

“I've been in the industry full time for six years but it feels like so much longer. Especially growing up around a family business like this one!” she says. “I've also been grateful to deepen my understanding of our industry by serving for more than two years on the Women's Fresh Perspective's advisory board for the Center for Growing Talent by PMA. And I have recently been accepted to serve on the Southeast Produce Council's Education Committee and Southern Innovations Symposium Committee. Volunteering and staying present has helped me meet so many incredible people and learn even more in such a short amount of time.”

So, what sets Dave's apart from like-companies in the industry? Leslie tells me that many businesses sell berries and many businesses are family-owned and operated, but she hopes that what sets Dave’s apart is the team’s ability to offer honesty, integrity, and quality service. 

“Those are our core values and I hope we always do those things best. To be straightforward when the truth is unpleasant, to always be fair to the customer and to the grower, and to go the extra mile to make things right,” Leslie notes. She smiles, “If you call at 2 a.m. because something goes wrong, you are talking directly to one of us and we are finding a way through it with you.”

Show Floor August 2015

It is easy to love produce for its health benefits and natural goodness and for Leslie, it is easy to love the produce industry for the incredible, hard working, down-to-earth people as well. But what she is most passionate about is carrying on her grandfather's values and the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives.

“It is more than being there for our customers,” she says. “It’s about the connections we make, the families we touch, and leaving this world a little better than we found it. Fresh produce gives us this incredible platform. I want to find new ways innovate in our industry and to work with our growers to better serve our communities and educate children about fresh, healthy, real food.”

Congratulations, Leslie, on the path that led you here and what’s to come next!

Dave's Specialty Imports