Risk taker leaves his mark on the industry

04/25/2008 12:00:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier


Sid Feinstein

(April 25, 12:00 p.m.) Credited with helping transform the produce department into a leading supermarket shopping destination, Sid Feinstein, president of produce at Kings Super Markets and chairman of RLB Food Distributors, both based in West Caldwell, N.J., was remembered for his contributions to the produce industry.

Feinstein, 86, died April 20 in a Boca Raton, Fla. hospital. Graveside services were April 23 in Clifton, N.J.

In 1989, Feinstein, who retired to Florida in 1994, received The Packer’s Produce Man For All Seasons award for helping change the U.S. produce industry from a seasonal, farmstand market to a global network.

Feinstein, who was born in Boston, was an innovative produce merchant who introduced many products and merchandising techniques into the supermarket that are now considered commonplace, said Rob Bildner, former RLB president.

“He was a risk taker who was never afraid and relished trying new things,” Bildner said. “He really understood the produce customer and knew it was more important to deliver. Over the decades, companies have really flourished by focusing on produce. Whole Foods is an example. That thinking really started with Sid.”

When Feinstein began working for Kings in the early 1950s, most supermarket produce departments were run by outside concessions with limited selection. Feinstein introduced many innovations such as carrying overseas produce and specialties, starting f.o.b. buying from California and promoting flavor over appearance through methods such as fruit preconditioning. All that helped make the produce aisle a profitable part of the store, said Jeff Shilling, RLB’s vice president of procurement. Shilling began working with Feinstein as a warehouse buyer in 1983.

“He cared more about people than anything else,” Shilling said. “When I started buying, he used to tell me to make sure the farmer is able to buy a Lincoln so that you may be able to someday, but he has to be able to get it first. His philosophy was always keep the suppliers in business. Fight for every nickel, but make sure you pay the right price so you have the suppliers around next year.”

After the Bildner family sold Kings in 1988, Feinstein served on RLB’s board until 1993.

Among his other credited industry introductions, Feinstein helped introduce Israeli produce to the U.S. He also worked on the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association’s Fresh Approach committee that helped develop the 5 a Day program, Shilling said.

Feinstein, a World War II veteran, is survived by his wife, Shirley; two sons; a brother; three sisters; and three grandchildren.



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