The United Fresh Produce Association will present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Hugh Topper, VP of fresh foods for H-E-B, at its Foundation Gala Dinner on Jan. 16, during the United Fresh Start Foundation Annual Conference at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, Calif. After serving the industry for 35 years, Topper plans to retire at the end of 2017.
“I can’t think of a more deserving individual to recognize for his more than 35 years serving the produce industry,” said United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel. “I know both suppliers and other retailers throughout the produce industry will want to join in honoring our dear friend.”
Topper has worked for the H-E-B Grocery Co. for the last 26 years, building a solid foundation for the company in fresh produce and fresh foods. His roles at H-E-B include: produce category manager; director of produce procurement; VP of produce procurement; VP of produce; chief merchant for central market division; and group VP of fresh foods.
Throughout his career, Topper has been active in the industry serving on the United Fresh Board of Directors, United Fresh Start Foundation Board of Trustees, Produce Marketing Association’s PEIB Board Chairman, Texas International Produce Association Board of Directors and Produce for Better Health Foundation Board.
Topper’s leadership with the United Fresh Start Foundation was a natural outgrowth of his and H-E-B’s commitment to children’s health. In Seguin, Texas, he started a salad bar program for all elementary schools, with the newest being “Let’s Get Growing,” a program for low-income elementary schools in South Texas. The program teaches second-graders how to grow produce through individual take home “farms.” It also partners with H-E-B dietitians, school administrators, teachers, students and parents to put together healthy meals through education and fresh produce consumption. To help drive participation, the school that has the highest support from parents gets a new playground.
Previously, Topper worked with Texas A&M University as a guest lecturer for the College of Agriculture, and as an Advisory Board Member for the Texas A&M Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center and Texas Vegetable Industry Advisory Committee.
Topper has built a reputation for always giving back to the community. He has been the United Way chairperson for H-E-B, which was recognized as the No. 1 company employee contributor in Texas. Hugh also served on the San Antonio Food Bank Board of Directors and San Antonio Food Bank Committee Chair. While leading the Food Committee, he created the annual holiday gift of produce, “Harvest from the Heart,” which has generated more than 14 million pounds of fresh produce for those in need to support holiday meals in the past five years.
A native of Midland, Texas and raised on a family cattle ranch in Oklahoma, Topper received a B.S. in Agricultural Economics from Oklahoma State University in 1982. He joined Fleming Foods Co. and worked for 10 years in Kansas, California, Missouri and Texas, holding positions as quality assurance manager, produce merchandiser, produce operations manager and manager of frozen food/dairy operations.
Topper joins a distinguished group of past Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, including Bruce McEvoy, Rick and Tonya Antle, Mike Cavallero, Joe Procacci, Reggie Griffin, Frieda Caplan and Bob Grimm (posthumously).
The United Fresh Start Foundation Annual Conference, which will be held Jan. 16-18 at the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego, Calif., will feature a new half-day program focused on growing access to fresh fruits and vegetables; all of United Fresh’s traditional volunteer leadership board, council and committee meetings; the Foundation’s annual fundraising golf tournament; and a new silent/live auction.
Industry members and guests are invited to register for the conference and the Foundation’s Gala Dinner, as well as the Foundation’s Fundraising Golf Tournament, here.