Jim Allen Set To Retire — Adios, Mr. Big Apple
Jim Allen, a familiar face to apple industry leaders around the globe, is retiring as President and Chief Executive Officer of the New York Apple Association (NYAA) after the first of the year.
He has spent more than more than 40 years involved in the produce industry, primarily fruit industry processing, purchasing, packaging, marketing, and promotion.
Allen joined New York Apple Association, Inc. (NYAA) in 1996 as retail promotion director. He was named President/CEO in 2000.
As NYAA’s senior executive, Allen represented more than 675 apple growers in the state. His responsibilities included all administrative, promotional, grower education, and communications activities; market research; and public and government affairs. He oversaw a $3.3 million annual budget, and a staff of six.
Through the years, he’s been extraordinarily active at the national level, serving three times as chair of the U.S. Apple Export Council. Allen also serves on the U.S. Apple Association Apple Labor Task Force as well as its Education Committee and Nutritional Research Steering Committee.
In his home state, he serves on U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s New York State Agricultural Advisory Committee. In 2013, Allen was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to represent New York state agriculture on the Office of General Services’ Procurement Council.
American Fruit Grower® and Western Fruit Grower® magazines recently caught up with Allen for the following Q-and-A.
Q: In the 20 years you have worked for the association, any idea how many miles you have traveled? What’s your favorite place to represent New York Apples?
Allen: Great question, but not sure I can give you a good answer. I can tell you that on average I would be away from home between 80 to 100 nights a year, with that number increasing over the last number of years, because of export travel.
I have visited Asia, Europe a number of times, as well as Mexico and mainland China.
I have traveled the U.S. extensively over my 20 years, hitting most all of the states, at least the ones with a large enough population base.
I love New York City (NYC), for all of its glory and hustle and millions of people. Obviously, NYC is a huge market for us, from the over 80 Green Markets to Hunts Point, the largest wholesale market in the world, to the massive retail market: from the bodegas to the major retailers. In addition, the NYC School system has a huge appetite for New York apples, last year more than 35 million. The New York City Department of Education is the second largest feeding program in the U.S., second only to the U.S. Military.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your years as president of the association?
A: Working with our industry to help foster a collaborative and cooperative attitude on major apple-related issues that impact all apple growers in the U.S., not just New York. Working alongside our competition in the market place, on immigration for example.
I have always used the example that New York may only grow 30 million bushels, compared to Washington State at 145 million, but we have 27 House seats and they have 10, with most of them in urban Seattle.
When it comes to support in the House, Washington needs New York, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. This explains the importance of the U.S. Apple Association (USApple). Sadly, though, immigration still is at a standstill, despite all of our efforts.
Q: What’s your proudest achievement in your role as association chief?
A: Representing our New York growers has been a complete honor for me. Over my years, I feel that we have grown to a level of national importance and national recognition, in both the market and in the industry. From walking the halls of Congress, to testifying at Senate hearings on trade issues for the good of the entire industry, our efforts haves helped place New York at the top.
Once again, not everything is judged on size and volume, but on actions. When Washington State and New York sit down with USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or Foreign Agriculture Service, usually the issues are the same .
Q: What’s your favorite apple?
A: Of course any New York apple, but forever it has been the ‘Empire’ because of the snap and the tang. Although as our industry continues to change, so do the flavors and the varieties. Every time I bite into a new variety, I think that I lose a bit of ‘Empire’ preference.
Q: What’s one thing about the New York apple industry that is overlooked/under-appreciated by the U.S. industry as a whole?
A: Well when you are No. 2, you do need to try harder, but when No. 1 is 10 times your size, it is a challenge. We have some unique advantages, such as being miles away from two-thirds of the U.S. population, rather than days away. The homegrown fad is now a trend that continues to grow. This is good for No. 2.
Q: What’s the one part of your job you’re going to miss most?
A: I’ll miss promoting New York apples, with passion and conviction. But without hesitation, I can say the people at all levels. Working with our national organizations such as the vitally important USApple, and United Fresh, has been such an honor. And their roles will only become more important as we approach new challenges such as food safety, over-production, and of course labor issues. Wall or no wall, lack of labor is our biggest threat, followed by the next food illness break out. We can win the food safety battle, but winning the labor issue is another story, one that I have been reading now for over 20 years.
Q: What’s next for Jim Allen?
A: Since any opportunities to join the Clinton Administration to help fix immigration are now unavailable, I guess I could audition for the “Corona Beach Chair” commercial and try to appeal to the aging Baby Boomers! In reality, my plans are undecided, but walking away totally from this industry is not likely to happen. It means too much to me. ●