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Ready Pac Foods CEO Tony Sarsam on leadership and challenges in the fresh foods industry

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Tony Sarsam, CEO, Ready Pac Foods)

This post is sponsored by Ready Pac Foods, Inc.

Tony Sarsam, chief executive officer of Ready Pac Foods, has built a career on turning around several brands, bringing them to profitability. With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Sarsam is now turning his attention to Ready Pac, a mid-sized company that has produced award-winning signature healthy salad blends, snacks, single-serve salads and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Company and division success under Sarsam’s leadership is the result of a strategic approach he employs to recognize and empower employees at all levels – instilling confidence in their capabilities and the brand they represent.

Here he talks about the qualities of good leadership and how his background has shaped his outlook.

Question: How does your background affect your leadership style?

Tony Sarsam: As the oldest of six children in an immigrant family (my father emigrated from Iraq when I was in my early 20’s), I grew up with an expectation to lead with deep regard for others. Growing up in and being part of a big family taught me to work well with others to accomplish my goals, and I still have a bias for working on teams. This is a skill I have tried to hone throughout my career.

During the course of my career, I’ve often been tasked with turning around a struggling business. To every one of these challenges, I brought a clear vision for success and unwavering persistence to get the job done. A handful of these turnarounds were with Frito-Lay. PepsiCo may be one of the finest companies in the world in which to learn, and my experiences there gave me great insight and training for future career opportunities. There, I learned the importance of diving deep into the details as well as creating an environment of accountability and recognition for my team.

Q: What about your style of leadership helps turn around organizations so quickly?

TS: I have had the great fortune of leading many functions in a number of fine companies and have been tasked with a terrific variety of turnaround challenges. When taking on a new role, I like to have a complete understanding of how things work. I quickly try to learn the business and the people. I can then make an assessment of what isn’t going well and why. I get involved with the processes and get acquainted with all the details of how the business works in order to understand exactly what can be changed or improved. I believe it is critical to provide – within the first 90 days – a vision of where the organization is going in the long run and what we need to do next. All of these early activities provide opportunities to be inclusive of each associate. Involving the whole team in the process of the turnaround builds loyalty and gives employees a stake in the success. Doing all of this quickly helps get things on the right track faster.

Q: What are some of the challenges facing the fresh foods industry?

TS: The consumer mindset has shifted to the desire for more fresh, simple and healthy foods, which is great for us at Ready Pac. The challenges we face are in the supply chain. Consumers will continue to demand fresher, healthier, faster, better tasting food within reach. Meeting those demands can be a significant challenge. This applies to domestic fresh food deserts – geographic areas lacking in access to fresh, healthy foods.

If, for example, we can keep food fresh for another day in the process, it opens up a significant number of opportunities. This is a key factor that is driving our efforts to expand fresh and healthy food offerings beyond convenience fare in small format operations.

Q: Specifically, what are some of the challenges facing Ready Pac?

TS: Our best selling product is the Bistro Bowl®, which makes up nearly 40% of our sales. This line speaks to consumers, delivering exactly what they’re looking for with restaurant-inspired flavors and a quality nutritional profile, all for a great value. Needless to say, it’s popular! We are making significant strides in getting Bistro Bowls into more retail outlets, but currently our biggest challenge is how to keep up with the demand.

Q: How have you worked to solve these?

TS: We have a terrific operations team that has created a robust productivity process. Through this process we have unlocked a lot of capacity and cost savings. Our projected growth will require considerable structural expansions at our current facilities and perhaps a new manufacturing site as well.

Regarding the challenge of getting Bistro Bowls everywhere consumers want them: We are simultaneously focused on developing the category at large retailers while looking for ways to create a presence with small format customers. Fresh solutions are in more demand than ever in places like drug stores, convenience stores and other small format retail outlets, and we are working to solve the supply chain challenges that have made a fresh presence in these stores more difficult.


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