College of Agriculture


Ray Griffin

Ray Griffin didn't start out as an agriculture major at California State University, Chico. But as a resident of the salad bowl of the world, the Salinas Valley, he was aware of the opportunities available in the agriculture industry. So during his junior year at CSU, Chico, Griffin made the decision to switch his major to agricultural business, and he hasn't looked back since.

The 2013 Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Agriculture grew up in Chicago and moved with his family to Salinas during high school. Upon earning his associate degree at Hartnell College, a trip to Chico sold him on the decision to transfer to CSU, Chico. Attracted by the beauty of campus, he entered as a business major with an emphasis in marketing.

Griffin was active in the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA), which is the nation's largest association for professionals in marketing and agribusiness. He was also a part of the Red Barn, a non-Greek, coeducational social club that engaged in community service. Pioneer Week was still an important and esteemed tradition at the time, and Griffin has fond memories of the event and the sense of community it built for all students.

"My experience at Chico State really helped develop my social skills," Griffin said. "[The Chico Experience] teaches students how to connect with others, build relationships, and work together, skills which are critical in business and in life."

While visiting CSU, Chico to accept his Distinguished Alumni award, Griffin advised current students to maintain friendships with fellow students who will one day be alumni. "One day you're going to rely on them as a networking resource," he explained.

He says his most memorable classes were those that gave him a sense of what the real business world would be like. A commodities trading course stood out to Griffin and kick-started his interest in understanding and following markets, which he says built the foundation for his knowledge today. In the class, students had to hypothetically purchase and invest in various commodities and monitor their investments performance throughout the semester.

After graduating in 1986, Griffin returned home to the Salinas Valley, where he began working for large-scale family farms. His first job out of college was at Merrill Farms, where he was exposed to real international trade for the first time as a sales coordinator. After six years at Merrill Farms in international marketing, he went to work at Salyer American Fresh Foods, where he built up a sizeable export program for their produce. The crash of the Asian market in the mid-1990s was a make-or-break moment in Griffin's career. Griffin saw the opportunity in the emerging organic market, where he was instrumental in introducing prepackaged fresh organic salads into Canada.

In 1998 Griffin and a colleague struck out to start their own produce marketing company, which Griffin described as a daunting experience.

"I had kids, a mortgage, and car payments, and no guarantee of a stable income," he recalls. "We started FoodSource with a folding table and a couple of chairs."

The company gradually grew and transitioned into a full-service fresh produce sourcing and supply chain management firm headquartered in Monterey, California. Griffin served as vice president for seven years until 2005, when FoodSource was acquired by C.H. Robinson, a Fortune 300 company. Griffin stayed on as general manager and today leads a team of 136 employees with five offices throughout the United States.

Griffin attributes his success to tenacity and hard work, and he encouraged students to show employers how they can be an asset to the company.

"Employees need to have passion and an appetite for hard work," he said. "So take initiative and constantly look for ways to make an impact wherever you go. I look for employees who can take leadership and problem-solve on their feet."

Griffin has sat on boards with United Fresh and Fresh Cut Processors. He has also attended the United Fresh Washington Public Policy conference and participates in the Produce Marketing Association. He is active in his local community, supporting Boy Scouts, Relay for Life, Little League, and local migrant-worker programs. Griffin is father to three children, Steven, Kelly, and Jennifer.

Each college within the University selects a Distinguished Alumnus or Alumna to honor each spring. Ray Griffin was honored as the 2013 College of Agriculture Distinguished Alumnus at a ceremony in the Bell Memorial Union on April 5, 2013.