Elite produce managers engage consumers, offer unique features

05/21/2013 10:31:00 AM
Pamela Riemenschneider

Left to right, Doug Groendyke of Kings Food Markets, Brett Reed of Hy-Vee Inc., and Aaron Geohring of Ray's Food Place talk about the produce strategy that earned them honors in the United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards at a panel discussion held May 16 at United Fresh 2013 in San Diego. SAN DIEGO — You’ve got to be a “people person” to make it to the ranks of elite produce managers.

Ten of the 25 finalists in United Fresh’s Retail Produce Manager Awards program took the stage at United Fresh 2013 on May 16 to share what makes their operations shine.

The panel, moderated by Steve Lutz, executive vice president of Nielsen Perishables Group, Chicago, allowed audience participation as well as a list of topics including what attracts consumers to new products, how to merchandise for convenience and how to deal with producing an excellent department with the labor available.

Panelists agreed active sampling is one of the most effective ways to trial a new product, though respondents were mixed on how to do it best.

Frankie Thacker of K-Va-T/Food City, Rogersville, Tenn., said she’s a big fan of sampling one-on-one with consumers with just her produce knife and a ripe piece of fruit, in addition to the samplers on Thursdays and Saturdays.

“Every other day of the week, any time somebody wants to sample something, we do it, or we just go back and cut some product and take it around and give it to people,” she said.

Hugo’s Family Marketplace in Grand Forks, N.D., has a staffer offering samples twice a week, said Rick Hogman.

Kevin Cazeaux of Rouses Markets, New Orleans, said the company conducted studies to see how much time a produce manager has to make an effective impression on consumers.

“The study in my store showed I have two minutes to effectively engage consumers,” he said.

For Nick Olivieri, produce manager at Pathmark, Bethpage, N.Y., time with consumers isn’t a problem for his demographic.

“I have an older clientele,” he said. “They want to talk.”

Panelists touted the freedom to personalize departments, offering unique features from the corporate set.

Even Hy-Vee Inc., Des Moines, Iowa, offers produce managers some freedom, said Brett Reed, manager in the company’s Windsor Heights, Iowa store.

“Even with 200-plus stores, each store has its own availability,” he said.

One of the biggest changes that has happened over the years has been the trend toward fresh-cut. When retailers talk labor, a lot of it is in fresh-cut, said Doug Groendyke of Kings Food Markets, Gillette, N.J.

“Fresh-cut should almost be a department within a department,” he said.



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