I was happy to leave the grind of retail and embark on a career supporting the rest of the supply chain.
While I now work mostly with seed companies and grower-shippers, I still make most decisions based on the knowledge I gained while working at retail.
I often contemplate what I would do differently if I went back.
Flavor has a much deeper meaning to me today than a decade ago having learned that flavor starts with the plant variety. Be it fruit or vegetable, the genetics of the product really matter. Most products grown today exist because they deliver well for the grower.
I have discovered a handful of grower-shippers who think more about the consumer and have an obsession with flavor.
They work tirelessly to select the right varieties based on taste and build handling practices to assure these gems wow the consumer.
If I were a buyer today my dream partnership would be working closely with a supplier, selecting varieties and defining handling practices that would deliver an exceptional flavor to the consumer.
I have also learned a great deal by calling on nearly every major retailer in the country over the last 10 years.
The best of the buyers I encounter all share similar characteristics. They are tightly focused on the consumer and only pledge loyalty to those suppliers who deliver for the consumer.
They listen intently during the sales pitch, ask great questions, and are mostly focused on the product experience. They know their products well and are always on the lookout for new levels of differentiation.
The price discussion only occurs when they are satisfied that you can meet their needs.
If I were a buyer today I would do a better job of listening, asking questions and better articulating my vision and willingness to procure great product. I would definitely be more open to visiting with potential suppliers while seeking out products that consumers will love.
While at retail, I was committed to category management in our top categories. I sat through countless meetings reviewing category results and mapping plans going forward.
To be quite honest, I learned that the best practices for one category were often good for another category.
Now that I have been on this side, I would use data differently. I would spend less time working on full-blown category management and more time mining the data for trends and gaps in our programs.
How many new sales and margin dollars could I create by being the best at spotting trends?
I have also learned that trend adoption is limited more by the buyer’s view of the category than consumer demand. Data matters, and I would use it differently.
In addition to great product, I have learned that the real winners in this industry are those who can deliver at store level.
They invest heavily in training on not only the basics of stocking and rotating, but also on the consumer side of produce.
Their store teams know how to engage consumers, help them select products and discuss preparation methods.
As I have worked with grower-shippers to launch new and differentiated items, the most significant decision we often make is which retailer we should ask to launch our products.
If I were to go back to retail, I would invest significantly more of my time and company resources in improving execution at retail by establishing a culture of consumer engagement at store level.
I firmly believe the best retailers end up with the best in class suppliers. My role as the produce leader would be to create an environment where suppliers pursue us with their best products.
In all reality, I am having too much fun in working with the supply chain to go back to retail, though I know I could improve if I did return.
Don Goodwin is the owner of Golden Sun Marketing. His company specializes in strategy and marketing for the fresh produce supply chain. Visit www.goldensunmarketing.com for more information.