(May 22) Paul Kneeland, director of produce and floral for Roche Bros. Supermarkets Inc., Wellesley Hills, Mass., spearheads growth in the produce department for one of New England’s many independent retailers.
He’s also played an integral role in guiding what has become a successful regional produce show, as three-time expo committee chairman for the New England Produce Council.
The April 30 show drew record exhibitors and more than a thousand attendees and is headed to a more upscale location next year, the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center in Boston's Back Bay.
Q: What makes regional associations so vital to the industry?
A: Sometimes the national associations can’t focus down on what specific areas need. New England is pretty specific, as to how operators bring product to market. It’s important to have a group that knows its market and tailors programs for its membership.
Q: How many produce department employees did Roche Bros. send to the New England Produce Council expo?
A: We sent all our produce managers. A lot of the assistant produce managers came on their own. In all, about 25 from 14 stores.
Q: What is so unique about New England?
A: We have a very active terminal market in Boston, where in a lot of cities they’re starting to fade. There’s very strong competition and lots of independents. We don’t have any Wal-Mart penetration yet, but it’s coming.
Q: How is the New England industry preparing for Wal-Mart?
A: A lot of the large chains are trying to grow as much as they can, picking up some real estate. Plus, establishing loyalty with consumers is key. That’s pretty important for us. The regional players can connect with the neighborhoods. Of course, a lot of that goes out the window when Wal-Mart comes to town. People are already getting prepared for that, whether it’s adjusting pricing structure, advertising. All the competition is getting ready. Roche Bros. is fine-tuning its advertising. People are grouping their stores into zones so they can focus on certain types of advertising more in certain areas than others at times.
Q: Is Roche Bros. expanding?
A: We’re opening a store in July and another in the spring.
Q: How does fresh produce fit into your store’s marquee?
A: It’s the first position of every store you walk in. We try to merchandise a number of things within that aisle and we’re known for our quality produce.
Q: How many produce stock-keeping units do your stores carry?