Midwest Produce Conference brings retail into focus

06/29/2012 12:14:00 PM
Andy Nelson

The Packer’s Midwest Produce Conference & Expo Aug. 13-15 in Chicago will include a consumer panel and tours of two Chicago retailers.

The opening general session consumer panel, set for 3:30 p.m. Aug. 13, focuses on consumer trends in buying fresh produce. Elizabeth Pivonka, chief executive officer of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, and Pamela Riemenschneider, editor of Produce Retailer magazine, will moderate the discussion.

Riemenschneider said the panel includes the latest Fresh Trends research and touch on hot topics including locally grown, organics, The Dirty Dozen, convenience and marketing to younger consumers.

“Live consumer panels are a great opportunity to interact with shoppers one-on-one,” Riemenschneider said. “We all want to know what’s on their mind as they walk the produce aisle.”

In addition to the consumer panel, at 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 14 a panel of produce suppliers and panels will discuss the growing local food movement in the Midwest, in a session titled “Feeding the Locavore.”

The “Urban Markets Tour,” from 9 a.m.-noon Aug. 15, includes trips to a Shop and Save Market and a Mariano’s Fresh Market.

Both stores are in downtown Chicago and are evidence of a resurgence of “urban retail” markets in the city core.

The last day of Midwest Produce includes tours of the Chicago International Produce Market and two produce distributors, Testa Produce and the Anthony Marano Co.

Taken together, the retail and wholesale tours provide an important learning opportunity for Midwest Produce attendees, said Shannon Shuman, The Packer’s publisher.

“The last day of the event will be very educational with retail tours that will highlight some of the most modern urban retail trends, in addition to a behind-the-scenes look at the some state-of-the-art produce distribution operations,” he said.

Brian Holzkopf, director of produce for Des Plaines, Ill.-based Shop and Save, said Midwest Produce attendees will tour the chain’s Archer location in downtown Chicago, which opened about a year-and-a-half ago.

Shop and Save opened its first store a decade ago, Holzkopf said. It has added four more since, with a sixth store expected to open at the end of 2012.

Fresh produce has played a central in the chain’s success.

“When you go into the store, you don’t even see registers or groceries,” Holzkopf said. “Perishables are the first third of the store, and produce is the first focal point.”

One of the aims of the tour is to let convention attendees see how seriously independent retailers take produce, Holzkopf said.

“We want to show it’s not just the big guys who are supporting the produce industry.”

Shop and Save’s Archer store, which stocks about 600 fresh produce items on a daily basis, is located just ten minutes from the terminal market, and many market workers stop at the store on the way home, Holzkopf said.

The chain’s produce team is what Holzkopf calls a “one-two punch” of himself and Patrick Morales, a buyer who walks the market every day.

Part of Shop and Save’s success, Holzkopf says, has come from catering to local residents. In the case of the Archer store, that means a largely Polish customer base. The store makes sure its produce department features plenty of cabbage, beets and carrots to satisfy that clientele, Holzkopf said.

Locally grown is another big produce category for Shop and Save. Michigan peaches and Illinois and Wisconsin sweet corn are just a couple of the many big summer sellers at the store, Holzkopf said.

In addition to leading the retail tour, the company’s first for a convention, Holzkopf looks forward to attending Midwest Produce.

“Last time was the first time we went to PMA, and we’re at the point where we’re trying to learn more and more about the industry in general,” he said.



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