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California Grocery Veteran Bob Wilson Passes Away

Mr. Bob Wilson
Mr. Bob Wilson

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 09:29 am

Mr. Bob Wilson, who spent 30 years with Nestlé/Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream in Northern California before he retired in 2015, has died. An obituary was unavailable at the time of this report.

Mr. Wilson was inducted into The Food Industry Hall of Fame last year.

In a special edition recognizing him, The Shelby Report noted that Mr. Wilson spent virtually his whole life in the food and grocery business. He got his start in the industry at age 14, when he became a checker for an independent grocery store in San Bruno, California. He loved it from the start.

“In those days, there was no time clock. You came in an hour early and didn’t leave until the work was done. And that was fine,” he is quoted as saying.

The job brought satisfaction in many forms, including the paychecks; Mr. Wilson was able to buy a new Corvette as a teenager and owned a total of six cars by the time he left high school.

Mr. Wilson continued his studies at the University of California Berkeley, taking courses that he felt would help him build a strong business career, including psychology and finance.

While at the university, at age 19, he went to work for Oroweat Baking Co. He began as a route salesperson and held numerous other positions, including regional sales manager. In 1979, he joined International Baking Co. in Los Angeles, where he held the positions of sales manager and, later, VP of sales. He enjoyed being with International, but in 1985, his parents’ declining health drew him back to Northern California, where he joined Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream as sales manager.

Over time, he began developing relationships with his customer base—all the major supermarkets—and became director of business development, charged with looking for other opportunities Dreyer’s could pursue as a company.

One of the most interesting opportunities was with the Girl Scouts. It began when a leader in the scouting organization called to inquire about doing some public community work together. After that, Mr. Wilson and Girl Scouts representatives began talking about ways they could incorporate the scouting organization’s popular cookies into the Dreyer’s product line. With the coordination of the Dreyer’s public relations, product development, manufacturing and marketing departments, it led to new flavors of ice cream featuring different Girl Scouts cookies blended in.

Giving back in many ways

Mr. Bob Wilson with wife Laura.
Mr. Bob Wilson with wife Laura.

Mr. Wilson was active for years in state and national industry groups. He was with The Illuminators organization for 30 years, a national nonprofit supplier association supporting the grocery industry. He served on the board as Headlite (president) in the year 2000.

He also served on CGA’s Educational Foundation board, with active involvement in scholarship funds.

Mr. Wilson also was deeply involved in civic work, serving on a number of boards: City of Hope, Easter Seals, Muscular Dystrophy, Junior Achievement and Special Olympics, to name a few.

According to the special Hall of Fame edition last year, Mr. Wilson had planned to continue serving the community in his retirement. Additionally, he and his wife Laura had moved to the foothills of El Dorado Hills, California, to be closer to their three children and nine grandchildren.

Challenges, but always a smile

Mr. Wilson had a quick sense of humor, and was fond of teasing and joking. But beneath the lightheartedness was a man deeply grateful for life and all its riches.

Mr. Wilson had his share of illnesses—he had and beat cancer three times: throat cancer, prostate cancer and chronic leukemia. He is quoted in the Hall of Fame edition as saying that he would never forget the support he received from his employer. One of the times he was in the hospital, Dreyer’s executives brought ice cream into the ICU unit for the doctors and nurses along with a plea to take good care of this favorite member of the management team.

“The reaching out that I got from my company, my friends, my family… it’s something you never forget,” Wilson recalled.

He had been given a lot in his life, he said. And he was a man who tried to give back any way he could, whether through financial advice, a new business relationship, an ice cream bar or just his trademark smile.

He described his outlook on life with a characteristic quip: “Only an idiot is totally happy. I must be close.”

About the author

Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

4 Comments

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  • Bob was a fine man and a good friend. He always had a smile and a good word. He will be sorely missed by all that knew him.

  • I was very fortunate to have Bob as a mentor while working in the Northern California market. I am not sure I ever met a man that was more generous not only in business but on a personal basis as well. He was a man of his word and respected by everyone he touched… “Rest in Peace” Bob, we already miss you…

  • Bob touched so many lives and always made people smile. He always went out of his way to help others. I will never forget the time that I got to spend with Bob at Nestle and the memories will be shared forever. Until we meet again and I will miss you Bobby.

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