ANAHEIM, CA — Longtime industry veterans Harry Higaki of Bay City Flower Co. Inc. in Half Moon Bay, CA, and Rich Van Valkenburg of Van Valkenburg & Associates in Capistrano Beach, CA, were honored with their respective industry’s top award at the Fresh Produce & Floral Council’s Southern California Expo, held here July 19 at the Disneyland Hotel.
Higaki is largely credited with opening up supermarkets to floral merchandising when he sold potted mums to Ralphs Grocery Co. in the 1950s. His son and past winner Harrison Higaki presented the FPFC Floral Achievement Award to his father, outlining his personal story and the vital role he played in transitioning the more than 100-year-old company from a cut-flower grower to a provider of potted blooming plants to the mass market.
When 95-year-old Harry Higaki strolled to the podium, he noted that he has been retired for 30 years and indicated that while the award was appreciated, he was a bit dumbfounded by its presentation at this point in his life. But he quickly revealed his continued interest in the floral industry, touting a technology currently being tested that will eliminate the wilting of roses. Higaki called it a “game changer.”
Van Valkenburg received the Norman H. (Buz) Bolstad Produce Achievement Award, named after one of the founders of the FPPC, who was a longtime Southern California retailer. In fact, Bolstad was one of Van Valkenburg’s early mentors in the industry.
Besides a long career in produce retailing, Van Valkenburg has operated his own food brokerage business for the past decade. He has been a longtime supporter of the FPPC, first serving on the board and the Executive Committee in the 1980s. After increased workload required him to step down from the Executive Committee before serving as chairman in the late 1980s, Van Valkenburg continued to be a constant presence at FPFC events and once again made an appearance on that committee in 2012, serving as chairman of the council in 2014.
The one-day expo, which is the grandfather of the ever-expanding regional produce show movement, attracted 2,000 produce professionals to its location at the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center in Anaheim.
Chef Fabio Viviani gave the keynote speech at the opening breakfast, exhorting the crowd of many in-store produce and floral personnel to go way beyond the bare minimum in doing their jobs. He said that while everyone can’t and shouldn’t be an entrepreneur, everyone is the CEO of themselves and responsible for what they accomplish and how far they go in their careers and lives.
Viviani told of his inspiring career that began as an 11-year-old in a bakery in Florence, Italy. Forced to work at an early age because of a family financial crisis, he made the most of it and has emerged as a rock star in the restaurant business, owning many locations and being featured as a regular on many cooking shows.