(May 12) CHICAGO — Ten award-winning produce managers agreed that three of the hottest issues facing their peers today include country-of-origin labeling, packaging and point-of-sale material availability.
They presented their thoughts at the standing-room-only May 6 United 2006 workshop “Retail Produce Managers Speak Out: The ‘Truth’ About Consumers.”
The panel of 10 represented the 21 produce managers The Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association selected as part of its second Retail Produce Manager Awards program.
Customers care about country of origin, the managers said at the question-and-answer session moderated by Steve Lutz, executive vice president of The Perishables Group.
However, produce managers can ease consumer’s concerns by stating that safety is important for all produce and that standards for domestic produce apply to foreign produce, said Jeff Thill, a produce manager in Waterloo, Iowa, for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee Inc. Thill also suggested explaining to customers that year-round availability wouldn’t exist without suppliers outside the country.
The prevalence of packaging also concerned produce managers. David Thompson, an Atlanta-based produce manager for The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, said he thought by now everything would be packaged.
“Bagged salads sell much better than lettuce,” he said.
Mike Dickerson, produce manager at a store in LaPlace, La., under the banner of Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., Jacksonville, Fla, tested okra sales performance by packaging two cases and leaving two cases loose. He said the packaged okra sold well while the loose struggled to sell.
But Kenny Dale, a Hickory, N.C.-based produce manager for Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion LLC, said, “People still want to pick their own produce. They don’t like packaged apples or packaged corn.”
The availability of point-of-sale materials, especially in a timely manner, not earlier or later than a scheduled promotion, also sparked discussion. Thill said the Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful LLC’s pomegranate juice was an example of good marketing with good POS materials. The campaign included TV advertisements, a direct mail campaign and information packs tied to the bottles.