Greg Johnson, Editor
Greg Johnson, Editor

LAS VEGAS — There’s no doubt produce is a bigger factor at the National Grocers Association’s annual expo, which was Feb. 10-13.

This was the second year that NGA partnered with the Produce Marketing Association, with PMA promoting the event to members, contributing to the educational program and subcontracting a produce pavilion, which 28 companies took advantage of, up from 20 last year.

It will likely grow.

Most exhibitors said they had good meetings with smaller grocery executives and some wholesalers.

Most exhibitors considered it a success.

It was also refreshing to see so many of those coveted “red badges” of retailers, and not have them mobbed by supplier attendees, like we see at PMA’s Fresh Summit, for example.

But there was also a big missed opportunity.

For one, many independent grocers use wholesalers, like Associated Wholesale Grocers, Nash Finch, and their competitors. A produce company exhibitor can’t just make a deal with a buyer. The exhibitor must impress upon the retailer that it should deal with its wholesaler to use supply from that produce company.

A mild complaint was that there were few produce vice presidents to talk to.

Exhibitors are optimistic the independent executives will bring their produce experts to future shows. There’s certainly a great opportunity for them to talk with those exhibiting produce companies.

In a way, the NGA expo feels more like a smaller regional show than a Fresh Summit or United Fresh Marketplace, even though it’s in Las Vegas.

It’s also something that can’t get too big or it will lose that intimate feel, as PMA president Bryan Silbermann told me on the expo floor.

Expect the produce pavilion to grow but not too much or too fast.


As the local trend continues to grow among consumers, it’s nice to see so many produce and grocery leaders stress that local is limited.

As consumers have to realize, a local produce diet is very small when there’s snow on the ground. It also eliminates many tropicals, including the banana, year-round.

The more the produce industry stresses “locale” over “local,” as Silbermann mentioned in his Feb. 11 general session, the more consumers will gain knowledge about the limitations of a local diet and they will realize how many fresh produce items they’ll miss out on.

In a Feb. 11 workshop on local food, panelist Mike Needler, president of Fresh Encounter Inc., which runs Community Markets in and around Ohio, focusing on local food, said independent stores can be more flexible and nimble with local sourcing than larger competitors.

“Kroger and Wal-Mart can try local, but we should be able to do it better,” he said.


Another popular NGA workshop was one on dietitians.

Melanie Dwornik, retail dietitian program supervisor for Wakefern, said it makes the most sense to have dietitians in stores, which Wakefern does, where people actually buy their food.

While doctors are increasingly advising patients to change their diets toward better health, most doctors have little nutrition training, and a dietitian can help consumers make better decisions at the point of purchase.

That means retailers have to find or train dietitians on the business of retailing.

Natalie Menza, manager of health and wellness for Wakefern, said in the beginning of its dietitian program, “it was difficult to blend dietitians with retail. We had to hire for personality.”

She said Wakefern has 60 stores covered by dietitians.

Dwornik said for in-store dietitians to be successful, she found that they have to be involved with all segments of the store.

This is another huge opportunity for the produce industry.

It’s one thing to sell and promote a healthy product because all consumers know that about fresh fruits and vegetables.

But that hasn’t been enough to change enough of Americans’ diets.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation is spending more time with retail dietitians.

There’s definitely an opportunity for the produce industry with these well-trained health professionals.

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