LANDOVER, Md. -- With competition growing in several of its Northeast and Mid-Atlantic divisions, Ahold USA has been quietly strengthening its produce departments with a combination of new programs focusing on ripeness, local sourcing and an expansion of organic items.
The shift was evident this month, as circulars from many Tops, Giant Food of Landover, Stop & Shop and Giant of Carlisle locations announced the "Orchard Perfect" program, which enjoyed a successful trial run last summer.
Running from June through October, the program features peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, white flesh peaches and white flesh nectarines, as well as red delicious apples and Hass avocados.
After being packed to Ahold's specifications for brix and pressure, fruits are pre-conditioned using a temperature-control system, but what makes the Orchard Perfect ripe fruit program unique is the significant oversight employed at various points in the supply chain, said Gary Kosofsky, vice president of produce at the Perishable Procurement Organization, a centralized buying group for Ahold's companies in the United States.
For the stone fruit, "we've partnered with what we feel are five of the best growers in the country in California, and we've also partnered with an inspection service that monitors the fruit from the time it's on the trees until it is loaded on the trucks," Kosofsky said. "Inspection continues through the distribution center and at store level. Everyone is integrally included in the process. What we want to have is perfect consistency, whether a customer is shopping in Rehoboth Beach or in Cape Cod."
To market the program, Ahold companies use a combination of in-store signs, special produce bags and Orchard Perfect stickers on the fruit. Also, several locations last week welcomed the arrival of this season's stone fruit with large ads in their circulars, telling the story of the Orchard Perfect program.
In addition, motorists in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic this summer will see Orchard Perfect signs painted on several of the companies' trucks. Some produce department managers have come up with other creative marketing solutions as well.
"Some of our stores have even had special napkins made with the Orchard Perfect logo as a way to emphasize that the fruit is so juicy," Kosofsky added, noting managers often encourage customers to sample the fruit.
The company also recently expanded the number of organic produce items it offers, Kosofsky said, adding organic items have been integrated into conventional produce displays.
"We've continued to see good growth with organics by promoting those items on a regular basis in our circulars," he said.
With an eye toward the burgeoning popularity of locally sourced produce and farmer's markets, Ahold companies have also been working to cultivate relationships with regional farmers through promotions such as "HomeGrown" at Tops and Giant of Carlisle.
At Giant of Landover, for example, a "Roadside Stand" promotion features the chain's partnerships with farmers from New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. During the summer, sidewalk produce displays evoke a farmer's market feel and emphasize the source of the products in the stores.
"It's good visibility both for the produce that we carry as well as for the local farmers," said Jamie Miller, spokesman for Giant of Landover. "It's a good way for us to let our customers know that we're partnering with local agriculture."