click image to zoomPamela RiemenschneiderMILTON, Mass.—In an area where major chains are looking to take a bite out of a vibrant and growing customer base, The Fruit Center Marketplace continues to focus on what’s made it successful for the past 40 years.
The two-store independent based in the South Boston suburbs stays true to its deep roots in produce.
“We’re a crossover store, somewhere between a Whole Foods and a traditional supermarket,” says general manager Steve Di Giusto. “The difference is our produce — how we do it separates us. We want to give quality at a fair price. That’s extremely important to our shoppers.”
Produce is the center of the store, the focal point for shoppers, and harkens back to the retailer’s beginnings as a fruit stand first opened in Weymouth in 1973. Over the years, the company divided between the family with the current direction of The Fruit Center Marketplace steered toward offering a full line of produce, meat, dairy and center-store items.
“We’ve always wanted to be the corner store,” says Mike Mignosa, son of founder Don Mignosa. “We’re a community store, the family store. We see familiar faces every day. It really means a lot to our customers to feel they really know us. Customers feel confident in the way we approach the business, especially in produce.”
With Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc. opening several Boston area stores during the past year, including a new hybrid downscale store in nearby Weymouth, and Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegmans planning to open its first Boston stores any day now, The Fruit Center Marketplace has been focusing on building a strong relationship to its community.
The retailer launched a successful dinner series featuring notable Boston chefs presenting dishes and cooking demos this year. The classes sell out almost immediately, says Chris Lyons, who handles the classes and public relations for The Fruit Center Marketplace. The program costs $20 for participants, and each receives a $10 gift card to the store.
The Fruit Center is not your typical grocery store. Small in square footage, they make up for it in a carefully curated selection of produce. There aren’t space fillers here. Everything seems mindfully chosen for customers, and they seem to appreciate it. Most baskets I see are heavily laden with produce.
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“In both stores, we want to make an impact presentation,” Di Giusto says. “We want to be able to have a large amount of product out, but to be able to control it. We want the customer to feel like they’re in a garden with lush mounds of produce all around — extremely appealing to the eye.”
Local — and The Fruit Center considers Massachusetts and New England local — factors prominently as well. On the day I visit, local cranberries are starting to hit the shelves, along with Vermont-grown Honeycrisp apples.
During the past few years, organic produce has become a bigger part of the assortment as well, Di Giusto says.
Something for everyone
While the department may be small in square footage, it’s big on service.
“One of the things we try to do in the produce department is offer a big selection,” Di Giusto says. “We’ll sell three different sizes of asparagus, and when in season, carry white and purple asparagus. We’ll carry two colors of bananas. It’s the same with avocados. We’ll have three different displays of avocados — green, ready-to-eat and organic.”
It’s not unusual to see two sizes of an item such as brussels sprouts, either.
“The customers that we seem to attract are the ones who are going to know what to do with their produce and seek it out,” Mignosa says.
That customer base has transformed over the years as well, he says, from an older, established community to a population of younger families with children.
“It’s vibrant, but there’s definitely been a lot of generational customers who shopped here with their parents, and now they’re shopping with their own kids,” he says. “There’s a great community feel.”
Up next for The Fruit Center Marketplace is an overhaul of its Milton produce department.
“We blow the place up regularly to keep it fresh,” Mignosa says.