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Generation Next: Tom Consalo chooses fruit over finance

Like so many others who chose the fresh produce industry as their career, Tom Consalo began that journey at a very early age.

“I was probably 9 years old, my first year working” at Wm. Consalo & Sons Farms, his family’s produce company in Vineland, NJ, he recalled. “I remember — this is kind of scary — stamping boxes with an ink pad. We were sorting Moroccan clementines. I remember because I was covered with little ‘Moroccan’ stickers.”tommysurfsConsalo surfing in Ocean City, NJ.

Thomas Vincent William Consalo was born Oct. 12, 1985, in Vineland, the hub of the New Jersey produce world. He worked at his family’s produce company throughout his high school years, both after school and during the summer breaks. He graduated from Vineland High School in 2003, and continued his studies at Philadelphia University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in marketing in 2007 and an MBA in 2008.

It was at this point in time that young Tom Consalo had a decision to make about his future. He had very much enjoyed his years of academic studies at Philadelphia University, where he had devoted his energies to his chosen field of learning. Yet he also retained fond memories of working at the family firm.

“I really didn’t have much intention to come back,” Consalo candidly told The Produce News. “I was seriously considering a career in finance, maybe Wall Street. I had some offers on the table.”Tom--FeTom Consalo and his wife, Felicia, who are expecting their first child in February.

In the end, “after much deliberation,” he chose fruit over finance. “After some soul searching, I decided to come back and work with family,” he stated.

Tom Consalo is now vice president of The Freshwave and president of The Consalo Group, which comprises Consalo Family Farms, The Freshwave and Royal Blue Blueberry Farms.

Like many young people in produce, Consalo is interacting with people all over the country, many of whom are older than him, a situation that can be a bit awkward. “At first, I found that the credibility issue was more prevalent in face-to-face encounters,” he said. “They could actually see I was significantly younger than they were.”

So like many young people in the industry, he had to “prove himself a bit” to many of those older folks and “overcome the ‘young’ factor,” as he put it. Even now, at age 29, he occasionally has to deal with the age issue, although certainly not nearly as much as when he was starting out. One way he accomplishes this, if necessary: “I will make it a point to point out my years of experience” as opposed to just his chronological age, he explained.

That experience in the produce industry, combined with his knowledge of finance, have given Consalo a two-pronged foundation in meeting the day-to-day challenges of the produce industry.

Asked to reflect on the current state and future of the produce industry, Consalo replied, “We’re on this roller coaster of technological incline. It used to be more straightforward, but there have been many social and political trends [as well as] changes on the growing end and procurement end and transportation. The pace is so rapid. There’s a lot of money being put into new infrastructure to better the industry. It’s exciting as a young person that there’s so many new and different things happening.”

He continued, “And the people in this industry — there’s a general appreciation of one another in the industry. There’s a mutual respect among everyone in the industry.”

While the fast-paced produce industry consumes much of Consalo’s time, he does enjoy his time away from the pressures of the office. “My number one hobby is surfing,” he stated. “It’s my favorite thing to do.” He also spends time in the gym, where he’s “an avid crossfitter.”

He also counts spending time with family as an important part of his life. While talking about his family, Consalo mentioned one particular woman named Felicia, a makeup artist from Vineland. “We had known each other for years,” he said, and admitted to “having a crush on her” before finally asking her out.

They were married on Sept. 29, 2013, and they are expecting their first child (a girl, he beamed), due around early February.