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Anita Fial: An industry veteran you should know

For more than half a century, Anita Fial helped shape the way Americans thought about food, and how the fresh produce industry communicated to consumers. From avocados to radishes, tomatoes to sweet potatoes, and sweet corn to blueberries Anita Fial worked with grower and shipper organizations, family-owned brands and multi-national corporations. She helped grow consumption by getting people to rethink their relationship with food and the people that touch it along the way.Anita-and-PaulPaul Allen and and Anita Fial.

From the test kitchens to becoming president and owner of Lewis & Neale, Fial’s career in food communications has been one of constant learning and growth. She joined L&N 65 years ago after earning a home economist degree from Cornell University. Since then, the agency and Fial have represented numerous associations, regions and countries in promoting consumption of high-quality food while educating consumers, retailers and chefs about qualities and benefits.

Fial transitioned into account work at L&N after spending several years as a test kitchen assistant, in which she delivered products to the growing number of food and home publications in New York and made regional television appearances throughout the country on behalf of clients. Despite moving behind a desk, she wouldn’t stay there long, leading groups of journalists, buyers and chefs to growing and production regions around the world.

Over the decades, Fial had consumers rethink seasonality working with Florida sweet corn and tomato growers. She normalized what might once have been considered exotic by helping introduce Avocados From Mexico to the U.S. market, and running the Mangos From Mexico campaign that predated the formation of the National Mango Board. Fial had people rediscovering radishes and reconsidering celery.

One person Fial worked with for many years is Paul Allen of RC Hatton Farms. “Anita Fial is responsible for the growth of the ‘Sweet Corn Farmers of Florida’ as much as anyone I can think of. Her passion and love for the produce industry is surpassed by none,” he said. “Anyone who has spent time at PMA conventions can vividly remember Anita walking every aisle with her shoes off. Anita is a wonderful person with a great love for life itself and the people that she has been involved with over the years.”

Another industry veteran who Anita has had an impact on is Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of the Hass Avocado Board. “Anita Fial is a legend in and of herself. A foodie from Brooklyn, yet someone who understood what it takes to change public opinion about food, especially avocados across America,” he said. “A self-made woman who built a very successful business around the principles of working hard, giving it your best, upholding your values and reputation, and always doing what is best for the client and your partners — as my first boss out of college, I still carry with me the lessons I learned from her. Anita’s genuine value for human relationships, humor, character, creative spirit, integrity, charisma and do what is right no matter who, what or why attitude makes her an incredible woman, a trusted mentor and most importantly a life-long family friend.”

Fial was, and continues to be, a mentor. She was always thinking of who she was working for, and how to make them successful. She was not afraid of asking tough questions or addressing hard truths. She did this with passion, integrity, generosity and compassion. I have also had the privilege to work with Paul and Emiliano, and many others over the years who share similar sentiments about her life. I was fortunate to have a front-row seat for over 15 years; and continue to learn from her through her retirement.

Jason Stemm is a vice president in Padilla’s food and beverage practice and a produce industry veteran of 20-plus years.