SANTA ROSA — Walter Robb, co-chief executive officer of Whole Foods Market, and state Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross are set to speak at the inaugural Food & Agriculture Industry Conference in November co-presented by the North Bay Business Journal and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch.
Other speakers at the Nov. 21 morning event are Neal Gottlieb, “founding twin” of Petaluma-based Three Twins Ice Cream, and Blair Kellison, chief executive of Sebastopol-based herbal tea maker Traditional Medicinals. More speakers will be announced soon.
“We are thrilled to partner with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch on presenting this conference with such high-level speakers,” said Business Journal Publisher Brad Bollinger. “Our vision is to bring everyone from the small organic farmer to the largest food companies into the same room to explore how they can work together to strengthen this foundational economic sector.”
Mr. Robb joined Whole Foods in 1991, operating the Mill Valley store until he became president of the chain’s Northern Pacific region two years later. During the next seven years in that role, he expanded the chain in the region from two stores to 17. He then became executive vice president of operations in 2000, chief operating officer in 2001 and co-president in 2004.
He now oversees six regions of a company that has grown through 20 acquisitions to have more than 340 stores in the U.S., Canada and U.K. With sales last year of $11.7 billion, Whole Foods (Nasdaq: WFM) is the nation’s eighth-largest food and drug store chain. Part of company operations is reaching out to local food suppliers and providing loans to startup producers.
Mr. Robb sits on the Whole Planet Foundation board of directors, Organic Center for Education and Promotion advisory board and University of the Pacific board of regents.
Ms. Ross was appointed agriculture secretary in January 2011, after two years as chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak and 13 years as president of Sacramento-based California Association of Winegrape Growers.
Mr. Gottlieb started Three Twins eight years ago as an ice cream shop. The company has grown to four shops in the Bay Area and nationwide sales to cafes and restaurants. That growth landed Three Twins on the Inc. 5000 list of fast-growing companies, debuting at No. 977 with 442 percent three-year revenue growth to $3.7 million in 2012 and No. 17 among all food and beverage companies on the list.
Mr. Kellison is the first top executive of 39-year-old Traditional Medicinals who isn’t a founder, coming in behind co-founder Drake Sadler in 2008. Formerly a CPA, he came to the tea maker from brand management and top executive roles at Nestle Foods, Fantastic Foods, Alternative Medicine and Natural Snacks. Traditional Medicinals has a one-third share of the medicinal-tea market.
The Food & Agriculture Conference is set for Nov. 21 from 7:30–11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa in Santa Rosa.
The major sponsor for the event is Warren Capital Corp. Pisenti & Brinker is a corporate sponsor. Call 707-521-5270 for sponsorship and registration details.
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