Kelly remains an owner of the company that helped pioneer flexible packaging in fresh and precut produce as he steps down as executive VP.

Rick Lingle, Senior Technical Editor

March 21, 2024

3 Min Read
Rick Lingle/Canva

40 or more years for a worker at one company reflects an epic tenure and commitment. For Emerald Packaging's James “Jim” Kelly, those four decades have been a "fun" family affair.

The company announced this week that Kelly retired as executive VP after 41 years, though he will remain an owner.

Kelly began his career at Emerald in 1983 after working for Proctor & Gamble in their management program. His arrival in the sales department at Emerald coincided with the burgeoning fresh-cut produce sector. Produce packaging was Emerald’s main market since 1963, but the fresh-cut revolution came the need for reinforcements.

The the eldest son of the company’s founder, Kelly had worked at Emerald during the summer for nearly a decade. He proved a perfect fit for the role.

When Kelly joined the company, it was housed in 30,000 sq ft building in Berkeley, CA. Sales were $13 million yearly.

Today, the company is housed in a 175,000 sq ft building that switched to solar power in 2023. Sales are now $90 million yearly.

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“It’s been a wonderful ride,” Kelly says. “It has been fun to grow this company with my family, including our father, my brother Kevin, and sister Maura. It’s almost inconceivable how large we’ve grown, so far beyond what I imagined possible. But, as Neil Young said, ‘comes a time’.  I’ve hit an age where I’d like to pursue other parts of my life. I’ll still be watching and cheering.”

Produce film research and development.

Kelly is known for three key achievements in helping…

  • Launch Emerald into the fresh-cut baby carrot market working with Grimmway Farms to develop shelf-life-extending films.

  • Build Grimmway into one of Emerald’s largest accounts.

  • Lead Emerald’s charge into fresh-cut salad, partnering with suppliers who engineered the films Emerald marketed.

  • Leverage Emerald’s strength in premade bags for lettuce, cauliflower, and celery, which helped Vegetable Growers Supply become one of the company’s largest customers.

“Jim played an integral role in the history of our business,” says Kevin Kelly, Emerald CEO. “He was there at the inception of the fresh-cut produce sector, which became our largest market. He knew how to sell, how to form close relationships with people, which helped Emerald get in front of decision-makers and outcompete companies many times bigger than us.”

Kevin recalls Jim’s role in the bag segment. “I expected to be out of the bag business 10 years ago. Rollstock seemed to be taking over our market. But he stayed on top of it, and when it didn’t disappear, we were ready to grow.”

“Thanks in part to his efforts, Emerald has become the dominant flexible packaging supplier to the produce industry,” adds Todd Somers, Emerald’s director of sales. “We are fortunate to have had his skills to help us grow.  We have a wonderful sales team in place ready to fill his shoes.  It’s great to give younger, non-family members a chance to help move this company forward, which he and the Kelly family have done. I’d like to thank Jim and the family for giving us the opportunity and wish him the best as he moves into the next phase of his life.”

About the Author(s)

Rick Lingle

Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday

Rick Lingle is Senior Technical Editor, Packaging Digest and PlasticsToday. He’s been a packaging media journalist since 1985 specializing in food, beverage and plastic markets. He has a chemistry degree from Clarke College and has worked in food industry R&D for Standard Brands/Nabisco and the R.T. French Co. Reach him at [email protected] or 630-408-7184.

https://twitter.com/PackmanRick[email protected]

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