by Joanne Friedrick
Lynn Arnold is director of seafood sales and operations for Rastelli Foods Group, a 42-year-old company in New Jersey that supplies seafood, meat, and other products to hotels, restaurants, institutions, and retail markets.
SeafoodSource: What was the path, especially as it relates to seafood, you took to get to where you are today?
Arnold: It all started with my first love. He was a clam digger, which lead to commercial crabbing, potting eels and so on; fishermen are the original multi-taskers, so I fit right in. This led me to aquaculture and we began raising clams in the early 1980s. Once the clams were grown I needed to figure out how and where to sell them. It was natural to open a small retail store and sell right from the dock as well as wholesale to local restaurants, casinos and distributors. Eventually the relationship suffered, but my love and respect for the industry endured and I went to work for a former customer, which was a seafood distributor in Philadelphia who was growing at the time. I thought I would be there a year or two and learn the distribution side of the business, but that turned into an exciting career. The industry was changing and I was with a company that embraced those changes. I became HACCP certified in 1994 and started playing a more central role in purchasing decisions, which required travel to the most significant producing regions. Those early experiences (and mistakes) prepared the way to my current position at Rastelli Foods Group. Rastelli is a very diversified company—we import, export, process value-added seafood in many forms and from a variety of species. We support our own retail stores and e-commerce sites as well as providing private label co-packing and fulfillment services. We also deliver daily shipments of fresh and frozen seafood items to several foodservice distributors and high-volume operations. Keeping busy is not a problem.
SeafoodSource: What does your job entail?
Arnold: As director of seafood sales and operations I work with quality assurance, production, purchasing, sales, training, marketing and operations.
SeafoodSource: What special skills or traits are required to be successful in your position?
Arnold: Patience, tenacity, willpower, flexibility, strength, vision, and compassion. The order of importance changes daily.
SeafoodSource: You’ve been with Rastelli for more than 10 years: How have you seen the business evolve in that time?
Arnold: The changes are truly amazing. Customer service and communication are more important than ever. Years ago cost of product was paramount; today for us it’s all about quality and service. We have a very talented culinary team and we actively work with our customers to source or create products best suited to their needs. Today targeted marketing and proper packaging are as important to our customers as cost. And quality is important—we have more people on our QA and maintenance teams than many companies’ entire payroll. We are an SQF Level 3 facility and it makes me very happy knowing how many customers appreciate and work directly with our QA department.
SeafoodSource: What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities with supplying seafood, especially across so many market segments?
Arnold: The single largest challenge is understanding our strengths and core competencies by realizing our weaknesses and truly focusing on how we can best service our customers and, of course, our employees. Having a committed team with longevity is essential. There are many opportunities for our employees to work elsewhere in warm, dry environments so we need to continually be engaged with our employees and ensure we provide a work environment they are proud to be a part of, which includes social responsibility and how it relates to our buying decisions.
SeafoodSource: Where is the favorite place your job has taken you?
Arnold: That’s a toss-up. I love South Africa and fortunately have been to so many interesting areas where I have made lifelong friends. It may sound funny, and it’s certainly not romantic, but I adore our own backyard—the New Jersey shoreline is magnificent.
SeafoodSource: If you weren’t in your current job and industry, what would you likely be doing?
Arnold: I’ve often thought about other options, but at the end of the day, when I see a beautiful piece of fish, I start to think of dinner and I can’t imagine doing anything else.