Packer 25 2020 — James Harris
Grocery industry veteran James Harris has been doing formally for a while now what he had been doing informally his whole career: helping retailers find and develop local and minority suppliers so those retailers can better diversify their supply chains, source innovative products and represent the communities they serve.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with small, local suppliers, so today I’m really just living out something that I started cutting my teeth on over 20 years ago,” said Harris, the director of diversity and inclusion and supplier diversity for San Antonio-based H-E-B Grocery Co.
Harris, who has been at H-E-B for 17 years and who previously worked for Kroger and Meijer, among others, coaches and counsels small suppliers on how to work with H-E-B.?
“He’s an amazing leader that we are so honored to have on Team H-E-B.” — Jody Hall, H-E-B
He helps them get familiar with food industry basics like quality control, source origins, universal product codes, co-packers and more. Harris also works with them on their business models, urging them to have a comprehensive understanding of their supply chain and their costs. When they’re ready, he connects them with the right buyers at H-E-B.
“When you’ve helped a supplier become successful, and not just doing business, I’m talking about thriving, and they’re doing business to the point where they’re hiring, they’re doing business where they are offering insurance benefits to their employees, they’re doing business to the point where they’re able to give back to their local communities and nonprofits and food banks — that for me means they’ve come full circle,” Harris said.
Jody Hall, vice president of sourcing for H-E-B, named a few of the companies that Harris has nurtured and championed and that now have products in H-E-B produce departments: Houston-based Just Made Foods, which sells produce-based, high-pressure processed juices; San Antonio-based Madge’s Food Co., which makes fermented tomato-based drink mixers; and San Antonio-based Texas Black Gold Garlic, which produces seasonings made with fermented black Texas garlic.
“James is doing some incredibly strategic and powerful work for H-E-B, and what he does with regards to supplier diversity and the whole topic around diversity, inclusion, brings tremendous value to our organization.”?
“He has very strong communication skills and great networking skills. In an organization the size of H-E-B, he can network and maneuver the waters and really help to be a very strong collaborator and influencer. He’s not always the decision-maker, but he knows how to get the information in front of the right decision-makers, and that’s a powerful role that he and his team play.
“If we have a buyer in produce or a buyer in bakery or a buyer in grocery, anywhere in the organization, James stands ready to say, ‘Hey, you’re looking for X, Y or Z? Let me help you and let me bring viable solutions to our consumers,’” Hall said.?
“Some of these smaller suppliers may not be on everyone’s radar screen.”?
“I’ve always had a passion for working with small, local suppliers, so today I’m really just living out something that I started cutting my teeth on over 20 years ago.” — James Harris, H-E-B
Hall described Harris as one who is constantly encouraging others, whether they be potential suppliers, current suppliers or his H-E-B colleagues. His work also includes fostering inclusion in the company, creating diversity councils at the corporate level down to the store level, across various divisions.
“I could go on for hours talking about James and the power of what he does to really make a difference in the lives of Texans — suppliers or customers or H-E-B partners,” Hall said.?
“He’s an amazing leader that we are so honored to have on Team H-E-B.”
More from the Packer 25:
Packer 25 2020 — Alisha Albinder Camac
Packer 25 2020 — Joe Barsi
Packer 25 2020 — Skip Consalo
Packer 25 2020 — Todd Bernitt
Packer 25 2020 — Carter Bray
Packer 25 2020 — Xavier Equihua