With more than 30 years’ experience in all aspects of the tree fruit industry, Keith Mathews became CEO in October for the new marketing firm, FirstFruits Marketing of Washington.

Mathews was executive director of the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association for the past two years, and for five years in the early 1990s.

He’s had a long-term relationship with the Broetje family and Orlin Knutson of Columbia Valley, the two supplier-partners of the start-up FirstFruits Marketing, as well as a professional relationship with them during five years he spent in sales at L & M, Inc. Both Broetje and Columbia Valley recently severed their longtime business relationships with L & M.

“Two years ago, when I came back to the Growers-Shippers Association, I had no thought that I’d be doing anything else,” Mathews said, adding that he enjoyed the ability to work in the broader context of industry. “The Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association was such a positive place to work. There is some sorrow in leaving that behind. But this was such a unique opportunity, and with such good friends, that I didn’t feel I could pass it by.”

As CEO, Mathews said he would recruit additional supplier-partners very carefully and strategically as he puts together a successful marketing team that represents the right product mix and shares in a mission-based philosophy.

Mathews spent the first ten years of his professional life as a high school math teacher, developing skills of gathering information and presenting it in a comprehensible manner. For the last 30 years, he has been involved with the tree fruit industry, from working at the cold storage level to being an advocate for grower-shippers to working with retailers as sales agent for various companies, including Rainier Fruit Company and L & M, Inc.

“With his statistical background, marketing experience, and industry knowledge, Mathews brings a lot to the equation here at FirstFruits Marketing,” said Jim Hazen, business manager for Broetje Orchards. With Mathews at the helm, Hazen, who helped get FirstFruits Marketing up and running, will now step back into a diminished role.