Pamela RiemenschneiderThe produce team at Tops Friendly Markets, led by Steve Wright, center, works under a simple mantra: "Fresh Stars Here." BUFFALO, N.Y. — When Steve Wright took over as director of produce for Tops Friendly Markets three years ago, he went to his team with a simple message.
“Fresh. Starts. Here,” Wright says, as we toured a recently remodeled Tops just outside Buffalo near Niagara Falls. “That was really a reminder not only to myself but everyone in my company — that it was going to be the dawn of a new era, and we were going to establish ourselves as a best-in-class retailer who operated well in produce.”
Under Netherlands-based Ahold’s centralized buying and merchandising, Tops had lost its sense of identity in some ways, Wright says.
“Really, when they broke away from Royal Ahold, it was an opportunity to go back to the roots of being a store of the community,” he says. “We’re really engaged in our community and doing things to be part of our culture.”
And that “store of the community” attitude is reflected in produce as well, Wright says.
“You can look at anything down to individual merchandising in stores,” he says.
Produce managers are encouraged to tailor departments to match their community’s needs. The Grand Island store has a higher percentage of organic shoppers, so it featured a wider selection of organic produce in a separate section. This is something you might not see in another Tops in the area, Wright says.
“I really preach that our guys should understand our mission, but there’s many ways for our mission to be accomplished,” he says.
That mission? Sell more produce.
“I like to keep things extremely basic, whether it be our in-store merchandising team, outside field specialists or our produce managers themselves,” he says. “We’re going to grow sales and drive units. A lot of people get caught up in percentages, but I’m not a percentage kind of guy.”
That’s the Tops produce business strategy — keeping it simple.
“Sure, there are things I have to do to keep it heading in the right direction — I’m not ignoring efficiencies and key metrics,” he says. “But it’s pure aggression. When you drive sales and drive units and drive market share, you’re putting more fruits and vegetables in carts, and that’s what I want all of our stores and all of our teams to be focusing on.”