DeCA’s produce operations are challenged to keep shoppers coming in for more, says Bridget Bennett, category manager for produce sales, marketing and policy.
“Our philosophy of a full, fresh and customer-ready department is significant for our store personnel because they are keenly aware our produce departments are an integral part of determining future shopping trips,” Bennett says. “We strive to remain relevant and reliable for our customers by delivering them a 21st century commissary benefit.”
Bennett, who has worked with DeCA for the past 23 years including the past 11 years in produce, took time with Produce Retailer Editor Pamela Riemenschneider to talk about the agency’s produce mission.
What makes each DeCA location unique?
B.B: Our produce associates at each commissary do an outstanding job of ensuring our stores are stocked with the items our customers want. Personal touches in merchandising can be found all around. We have different footprints and equipment in some of our stores, and sometimes the flow of the department is different. However, our produce departments are fresh and colorful, setting the tone for a great shopping experience.
What is DeCA’s mission when it comes to your fresh produce programs?
B.B: We strive to provide the military community with fresh, high-quality produce at the best possible prices. Today’s consumer is more health conscious, and we want to make it easy for our customers to select a quick snack while learning to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into their lifestyle.
What makes DeCA stores different than a typical grocery store?
B.B: As a component of the Department of Defense, DeCA’s established customer savings mandate is 30%. DeCA’s produce operations operate similar to other retail produce departments with a slightly different set of rules and a different mission: DeCA exists solely to provide a worldwide benefit and thus we buy and sell products at cost.
DeCA is also source of employment for family members of those service members who routinely relocate, for military retirees, and for some guard and reserve members. Over 60% of our employees are affiliated with the military community. As a military spouse myself, I realized the importance of the commissary benefit at a young age. When I became a DeCA employee, it became so much more. Commissary employees have a sense of pride in their place of business, as well as knowing we “serve the most deserving” — our nation’s service members, their families and retirees.
DeCA produce departments are well known for their innovative displays. How does the organization foster that creativity?
B.B: Our produce teams are passionate and love the competition, as well as the incentive to take home the grand prize.
DeCA’s produce personnel also get tremendous support from an extended team of industry partners, and together they are able to accomplish some incredible merchandising. The displays that the field team creates are awesome and are worthy to compete against any I have ever seen. Produce is an impulse buy, and the excitement created by our eye-popping merchandising displays is a direct link to a lift in sales, whether focusing on a particular item or an entire commodity.