“I grew up in the fifth generation of a family of citrus growers. In fact, my family was one of the original citrus growers in Southern California back in the 1880’s,” said Cris Hales.
This deeply rooted pride in her agricultural heritage exudes from Cris, and has led her down a very interesting, complex path to get her here today. She grew up ducking between citrus trees down in California; irrigating, gophering, and smudging–if anyone remembers what that means, she added jokingly.
Though fleeting thoughts of pursuing a career in medicine had crossed her mind, Cris knew in her heart she would always be involved in agriculture. It was in her blood after all. Four short years later, Cris graduated from California State Polytechnic University with a degree in Agricultural Business Management. This was just the beginning.
She was quickly swept away in her career working for companies we are all familiar with–Dole, Sunkist, and Sunworld. Before long, she also added entrepreneurship to her long list of accomplishments. As an entrepreneur, she worked independently purchasing fruit for exporters in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. Cris also worked for Frieda’s Inc., a company started by Frieda Caplan, the first woman to ever own a produce company in the United States. After her stay with Frieda’s Inc., Cris worked for a fresh produce company in New Zealand for four years.
Once she returned stateside, Cris had a decision to make—move back to California or pursue a career in another state. Thankfully, she didn’t have to think very long before one of our recruiters contacted her for the position of Director of Fruit Procurement.
Cris was jumping from an entire career in fresh produce and moving into fruit process, a new frontier for her. Cris, with all of her grit and tenacity, quickly learned the complexities of fruit processing.
“Citrus packing lines and apple packing lines are almost identical. Except I didn’t have to worry about the bruising quite as much with citrus as I do now with apples,” she joked. This was the tip of the iceberg of differences she rapidly learned.
“It’s not just putting the right fruit in the right box and shipping it to Costco or Walmart,” said Cris. “It’s knowing this variety will work for that process, and that process needs this, and knowing we have everything but this one variety to make the mix and figuring out how we are going to address it.”
She laughed and explained, “there is no such thing as an average day.”
“I have complete confidence in my team. All of them have been here for as long as I have—many longer. There is a tremendous amount of experience in my Field Team,” she stated proudly. Cris herself has been with Tree Top for six years, and some of her Field Team have been with us for over 20 years.
Throughout her journey, one things has never changed: Cris loves being out in the field.
“That’s where my passion is, to be out in the orchards with the growers or in the pack house with the packers; just making the contact to make sure we are servicing their needs the way we need to. That’s how you find out what’s going on in the industry—by being out talking to people.”