I had the chance to chat (n person) on March 30 with Howard Popoola, member of the USDA fruit and vegetable industry advisory committee and vice president of Quality Assurance with Topco Associates LLC, Slokie, Ill.
11:30 a.m. Tom Karst: What is your typical week like? What kind of responsibilities do you have?
11:31 a.m. Howard Popoola: My responsibility starts out with the members, which is the Topco Associates philosophy. Topco Associates is a cooperative of retailers. Some of our bigger members are the Hy-Vee supermarket chain, Giant Eagle Inc, Meijer - we call them our member owners. Our responsibility starts with them, making sure they are satisfied with what we are giving them. We are a procurement organization and they have to be happy with the level of service that they are getting form my group, which is the quality assurance group. Because essentially what we are telling them is, look, in addition to procuring your products for you, we will also offer the quality assurance function that along with that, so I have to be sure members are happy.
11: 34 a.m.: Tom: So they can trust the product you are giving them?
11:34 a.m. Howard: Absolutely. If they can trust their quality assurance and food safety efforts to us, then we owe it to them that all the products that go on their shelves are the best, and meet specifications all the time. That's where my responsibilities start. And then we have to move on to the suppliers those products as well, because if suppliers don’t do their jobs well, then there will be issues with the members. So part of my responsibility is approving suppliers that will pack product for Topco Associates and our members and making there are not special situations, such as recalls, and if there is a recall, to make sure we are executing very very fast and getting information to consumers quickly.
11:37 a.m. Tom: Do retailer members buy all their produce from Topco?
11:37 a.m. Howard: There are ten programs that Topco runs and members are free to participate in any program that they want to participate in. You will see members participate heavily in the center store grocery, others in produce; it all depends on what makes financial sense to them.
When it comes to produce, we source directly from the packer and organize product to be delivered to the warehouses our members who participate in the program. Some members might have supplemental programs. There are all kinds of dynamics; there are no restrictions.