Writer / Michelle Kaufman
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Lori Taylor used her 10-year career at Indianapolis Fruit Company and relationships with growers to create a brand, which is also now her alias — The Produce Mom ®.
Taylor’s primary job at Indy Fruit was to sell fruits and vegetables to various grocery stores, ranging in size from juice bars to Kroger. The diversification of accounts was uncommon in the industry but helped set Taylor up for success.
“To be a good sales representative, you have to really know the whole gamut of fruits and vegetables,” Taylor says. “When I look back on my career, just that simple diversification, which a lot of people honestly would have probably seen as a negative, that was really the foundation of my ability to do what I’m doing today.”
Taylor became a mom in 2007 and had another child in 2010, and the cost of daycare meant that she was losing money by going to work. She loved her children and her job but wanted to be financially sound. She heard a marketing manager position would be opening and met with her boss to formally express her interest. At the meeting, her boss told her that due to her sales numbers and lack of marketing education, she wasn’t qualified enough for the job.
“I’ve always been raised to honor your bosses, honor your parents, a lot of those southside values that a lot of us have,” Taylor says. “I was not someone to bark back at authority, but when he said that to me I’m sitting there thinking in the back of my mind, ‘this is it, this is my chance to stay employed here and be part of not only the place I love, but the industry that I love.’ I looked right back at him and said, ‘What qualifies you to be director of marketing?’”
Taylor asked him the last time he went to the grocery store with two young kids on a small budget. She wants to raise her children to love fruits and vegetables even though they prefer to eat cookies and pizza — a struggle she knows other moms face, too.
“If I’m spending money on something, chances are it’s a result of a good marketing campaign,” Taylor says. “I felt very poised and well-positioned to be the marketing manager.”
Her boss told her she was right, and Taylor got the position. After awhile, she missed the direct interaction with the people who are involved in fresh produce sales. At the same time, she was struggling to find information on blogs and social media about produce. The trade journals she subscribed to focused on farm issues and government policies, but Taylor wanted a single destination to learn all about the produce department.
Taylor got the idea to start and author a blog about fruits and vegetables with social-media heavy and interactive content that represented several brands. Growers and shippers could be on the site and, in exchange, they could pay money or provide Indianapolis Fruit Company with product discounts.
One night, as her wheels were spinning and her house was asleep aside from her and her Labrador retriever, she thought of a name for her blog.
“The name is so important when you’re coming up with something that’s new, that’s trendy, that you want people to opt into,” Taylor says. “I just came back to who I am and how I got the job. I got the job because I am a mom who knows a lot about produce. I work in produce, but I’m a mom. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, the name is produce mom.’”
She typed in producemom.com but the URL was claimed, so she typed in theproducemom.com, which was available. She immediately bought the domain for $5.99.
Taylor got called into the president’s office in January 2012 and was asked if she had any ideas for a marketing campaign, and she pitched the blog. After someone asked what a blog is, she went back to her desk and wrote her first post, “Who is The Produce Mom?” in 15 minutes.
The original blog is still on her website today.
“I will never change that blog because that blog represents the second day I really stood up for myself and my career,” Taylor says.
Her former boss loved the idea, and Taylor got approval to go with it. Indy Fruit and Taylor grew the brand together for three years and eventually, the brand began paying Taylor’s salary. Ultimately, Indy Fruit said they were done with the company, and Taylor could either have her old job back or buy The Produce Mom.
“When they said that, the tears came down my face,” she says. “I didn’t even want to cry, but they just came down because that’s how raw and real the emotion is. That’s how deep the connection is when you are an entrepreneur and you have a brand or an idea that’s come to life. I said, ‘I’m buying it.’ I’d be a caged animal going back to the cubicle and doing what I was doing for years.”
Since she closed on the sale in August 2015, The Produce Mom has continued to grow. The Produce Mom recently launched a campaign with the Department of Education and USDA that focuses on bringing more fresh produce into school meals.
School food service personnel – lunch ladies and line cooks – will be educated on how to prep and serve more fresh produce. At the end of the 2016-17 academic school year, the training will impact 10 million school meals. During the 2017-18 school year, the curriculum will go digital and impact more than a billion school meals nationwide.
Additionally, 30,000 K-12 classrooms across America use The Produce Mom’s monthly produce challenge, which can also be seen in select Kroger stores and the Department of Defense commissaries east of the Mississippi River, Puerto Rico and Cuba.
“When I think about the advancements that we’ve made, and those are all advancements that we’ve made in the last 12 months, I know I’m doing the right thing,” Taylor says. “It’s fueling what I need to keep this going. Out of the entire Pinterest network, The Produce Mom ranks in the top 1 percent of all Pinterest pages for both followers and engagement.”
In the future, Taylor would like to expand work with school meals, increase consumer following and create more jobs. The Produce Mom currently supports four other small businesses and two, part-time employees.
For more info on Taylor, the educational program or to simply get recipes, visit theproducemom.com.