Packer Interview - The Fresh Market's Vic Savanello
The Fresh Market's Vic Savanello talks produce trends for 2019. ( The Packer )

Vic Savanello, vice president of produce merchandising for Greensboro, N.C.-based The Fresh Market, expects that flavorful varieties, tropical fruits and fresh-cut vegetables will trend in 2019.

Savanello spoke with The Packer about how he finds unique items, how his stores educate employees about different varieties, and how The Fresh Market encourages shoppers to try new produce items.

“We have a couple different ways that we try and attack that,” Savanello said. “First off we create story signs that really tell the consumer in a very simple way, right at the shelf, what they are, what they’re about, some of the distinct attributes of them, flavor, where they come from, or any unique, cool little story that goes along with them.

“The other side of that is our own staff in the stores,” Savanello said. “Our associates are well-informed as to what the product is and what makes it so special. We have a thing we call huddles every morning in the store where we introduce to the associates new items, things that we want them to taste and know what the flavor is so they can share that with a customer, not just be told off of a piece of paper.”

The Fresh Market plans to emphasize flavor in the coming year with offerings like Harry’s Berries — sweeter strawberries — and grapes including the cotton candy and jam varieties. The retailer also plans to continue stocking purple Brussels sprouts — a nuttier, sweeter alternative to the traditional variety — along with jumbo blueberries, fioretto — also known as flowering cauliflower — and walnut-size kishu mandarins, according to a news release. Korean butterscotch pears and green dragon apples are also on the docket.

One way Savanello finds unique items is by letting people know he is looking for them.

“I actually participate in a lot of different retail groups, I sit on a lot of different panels at food shows, and one of the things that I try and do, while those panels are pulling information out of me, what we’re looking for as a retailer, I try and sell The Fresh Market and what I’m trying to accomplish to all those people in the audience,” Savanello said. “The last show we were at, a couple of the fellas that work for me were saying, ‘Boy, you were doing like a Fresh Market ad up there,’ and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

“I’m telling everybody if you’ve got something different, if you’ve got something special, if you have something unique that you wonder whether you could find an outlet for it, let me see it,” Savanello said, “because if anyone in this country can sell it for you, it’s gonna be me.”

Along with expecting more interest in flavorful varieties, Savanello predicts that tropicals will see a surge in 2019, with passion fruit, lychees, jackfruit, rambutan and soursop growing increasingly popular, per the release. Yellow dragon fruit in particular will be one to watch.

Convenience is another trend expected to continue in the coming year.

“The vegetable category in our pre-cut, in-store-prepared category, the sales increases are through the roof,” Savanello said. “Consumers are looking for not just items that are made value-added meaning that they’ve been cut or trimmed or put in a specific bag that you can throw right into a microwave ... but also that they’re seasoned, or that there’s a combination that makes them even more flavorful, whether it be Brussels sprouts with a seasoning with some chopped peppers, or same thing with an asparagus, we even had a cauliflower rice with turmeric on it. Those kinds of combinations of those vegetables make convenience for the consumer.”