Corporate Cultivators: Makenzie Raenser, H-E-B
Activists vs. Agriculture: By: M.P. Cremer
Picture this: You walk into your favorite grocery store and are automatically drawn to the vibrant, fresh veggies dis- played at the front of the house. You peruse through the pre- packaged vegetables – ready to steam, ready to mix, ready to eat – your mouth is watering. Right over your shoulder, you hear someone let out an ever so slight gasp and turn around to see a blonde-headed young woman standing behind you with the biggest grin on her face.
“Sorry,” she laughs, “it’s just…that’s a photo of my grandad on the back of this bag, he’s a farmer. He’d be so proud of this.”
She grabs a bag of veggies, snaps a photo of the packaging and throws the bag in her cart before she heads over to the meat counter.
“Huh,” you think, “now who made that happen?”
If the grocery store you pictured was H-E-B, a Texas based grocery store chain with 340 locations around the Lone Star State, one of the people who made this happen is a good friend of mine from college: Makenzie Raesner.
Raesner is one of 11 brand managers at H-E-B corporate for the fresh department and focuses on anything and everything vegetable related, with a hand in the fresh floral department as well. She manages dozens of projects at any given time, from the design of packaging to contacting farmers about their produce.
“Being in produce puts me directly working with agriculture in every aspect of what I do,” Raesner said. “I work on the commodity vegetable desks and vegetables in general, including bagged salads. I constantly look at weather reports to be able to determine what crops are going to look like. So, I know my supplier has to plant lettuce 60 days in advance of harvesting. Being able to plan how much volume our stores are going through within different times of the year with my procurement team really makes a difference.”
Raesner grew up in the cattle industry and graduated from Texas A&M University with a Bachelor of Science in animal science and a minor in business, and went on to obtain a master’s in agribusiness. Although her background was primarily animal agriculture based, she said she enjoys learning more about the ag industry from the “plant side” of things.
“There are definitely aspects of both my degrees I use every day. From understanding markets to my entomology classes, I feel like I use my degree more than I thought I would when I got offered my job,” Raesener stated.
Speaking to her agribusiness degree, Raesner said her studies differed from a traditional business degree in many ways.
“Obviously there was more of an ag focus,” she said. “Where my friends in business classes were looking at the stock market, my professors were more concerned with teaching us about commodity markets and stock of agriculture companies. We learned about issues directly related to ag such as eminent domain, renewable energy and the supply chain. I think I could’ve received a great education as a regular business student, but the focus in ag business dealings helped me out significantly in my role today.”
Raesner added, as a student, she interned for H-E-B with the meat procurement team, and her supervisor pushed her to get her foot in the door with H-E-B corporate, whether it be dealing with meat or not (something she was more familiar with). However, she said getting her foot in the door turned into a career she enjoys very much.
Raesner’s enjoyment for her job is not limited to daily computer tasks and spread-sheets. She said another part of her job she loves is working directly with Texas farmers.
“The people I work with, we’re all Texans, and we have a lot of pride,” she laughed. “That reflects in my work as an H-E-B employee, and it’s shown in the farmers who grow crops and sell to a larger chain [H-E-B] in their state. They are proud of their products; they’re proud to see something they grewfromaseedtoabagon our shelf with their name on it.”
Raesner said the most rewarding aspect of her job is visually seeing the end product of one of her many projects hit the shelf, or in the fridge at a friend’s house.
“These products take months and months to develop and require the help of many different teams within our company. Walking into the H-E-B where I buy groceries and seeing a salad kit we put together or one of our products showing up on an Instagram account or even one of the H-E-B chefs featuring a product we put together – it’s rewarding. We did that, from the farmer who grew the spinach, to the employee who stocked the shelf…we did that,” she said.
Raesner may work from the comfort of her home office, but rest assured, her role in agriculture is just as crucial to the food system as anyone else’s. She helps farmers promote their products; in ways their ancestors couldn’t have ever dreamed of. She assists in making sure the fresh veggies on H-E-B’s shelves are stocked with qual- ity, nutritious items, and it takes her months to check this task off her to do list. She is the reason many vegetables get from some sodbuster’s farm directly to your table. Makenzie Raesner, by all accounts, is a corporate cultivator.