VANCOUVER — Five Canadian retail heavyweights shared the stage April 3 at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s convention for a panel discussion, and moderator Reggie Griffin estimated they represent 80% of the buying power of fresh fruits and vegetables on store shelves across the country.
Chris KogerRetail panelists at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association were Mike Venton (from left), of Loblaws, Oleen Smethurst of Costco, Bernadette Hamel of Metro-Richelieu, Frank Bondi of Sobeys Ontario, and Sam Silvestro of Wal-Mart Canada Corp.Griffin, former vice president of produce and floral for The Kroger Co., said the overarching issue he wanted to address is how and why fresh produce is a driving force for each retailer, and how suppliers can help them build a fresh identity.
Panelists agreed that the traditional buy/sell transaction has evolved into a partnership, and price isn’t the most important part of the deal.
“It’s so important they understand our business, who we are, what our vision is, so they can complement us and help achieve our goal,” said Bernadette Hamel, vice president of national procurement of produce for Metro Richelieu Inc.
Oleen Smethurst, general merchandise manager of produce for Costco Wholesale Canada, said she has three questions for every supplier:
- What’s new/changing?
- What can Costco do better to promote the product?
- How can Costco and the supplier become more efficient?
“What category managers are looking for, the best thing is to come in with your homework done,” said Sam Silvestro, senior director of fresh food for Wal-Mart Canada Corp., responding to Griffin’s question about what suppliers should do before meeting with potential buyers.
“Know what it is that you want to present to us and understand what we are looking for.”
Mike Venton, senior vice president of fresh food and national produce procurement for the Loblaw Cos., said retailers have more data on consuner trends than ever before, but it’s still challenging to ensure each retail location has what the demographics of the area demands.
“We’re really trying to understand who is in the market and what the customer in that store is looking for,” Venton said. “I would probably tell you the multi-cultural assortment is probably the most challenging, in terms of us understanding not only what items are required for that market, but then logistically, how do you make that work.”
Sobeys has a focus on eating healthier to feel better, said Frank Bondi, director of produce category management for Sobeys Ontario.
“It is us becoming food ambassadors for our consumers,” Biondi said. “ ... We need to engage our vendors to be food ambassadors. You guys are n it with us and we need to entice customers to try new products and feel comfortable when they walk in the store.”
Silvestro said Wal-Mart is in a “forunate position” of being a global company with offices in different countries.
“I think what that brings to the table for the grower community is the different specs that each country is looking for,” he said. “We’re not looking for one single size and that gives us the opportunity to work with growers to try to take a full array of everything they have to offer.”
Communication between suppliers and retailers is key, Smethurst said.
“We’re in the produce industry, and we understand what happens, it’s a living product, so deliver on the quality,” she said. “If the quality is not right, place the call. Let’s make the decision together.”
“We need the suppliers to believe in our brand as much as we do, and if they see there’s something we should be correcting, I would appreciate to have an honest discussion about it,” she said.
Bondi said retailers can’t “put all of their eggs into one basket” because supplies can be unpredictable in perishables, but companies tend to work with growers that meet their needs.
“In essence, you continue to look for suppliers and growers that you can give more of that volume to because you have that confidence they have the ability to provide it in the way you want it,” he said.
At one point, recalling his career at Kroger, Griffin injected some humor into the conversation, addressing Silvestro.
“Working as a competitor, (Wal-Mart has) funamentally changed how produce is procured in the United States and probably the world, for retailers,” he said. “So I’d like to thank you for that, Sam.”