OAKS, Pa. -- Fleming Cos.' division here is turning its fresh produce buying needs over to produce wholesaler Four Seasons Produce, Denver, Pa., in a move Fleming officials hope will increase its capability to do private-label and locally grown programs.
"This is a long-term strategic agreement in which they will be the constant and consistent source of supply to our retailers," said Jim Pinciotti, operating group president at Fleming's Oaks division.
Basically, the agreement gives Four Seasons the buying and supplying power for Fleming, while the full-line grocery wholesaler will retain the merchandising responsibilities for produce, working with retailers at the store level.
"They do the in and out," Pinciotti said. "Our function is still to do the marketing and write the ads."
The Fleming executive said the relationship his division has forged with Four Seasons is unique, because "there is a lot of interfacing" that will be necessary for the partnership to work.
"They might buy apples and oranges, but it's our job to tell stores what to promote," he explained.
Pinciotti said the deal began to come together at the end of last year, after both companies had been discussing the alliance.
Prior to this agreement, the division had been in a long-term relationship with another produce supplier. Pinciotti would not name its previous produce wholesalers, but he said the opportunity to team with Four Seasons could not be passed up. Four Seasons, he said, "brings a little bit more to the party than our last supplier."
The company has a full organics program, and its own banana-ripening capabilities, for example, which Pinciotti said is a plus for Fleming.
"We [had used] a number of companies for that process," Pinciotti said. "And frankly, we weren't always real consistent, with our other supplier."
Four Seasons also has a repacking facility, which Pinciotti believes will be helpful to Fleming and its independent customers down the line, especially if branding comes into play.
"If we want two-and-a-half-pound bags of oranges, we can do it," he said. "Because of this, we can get into private branding. I'm not saying it would be today, but we have that [option]."
Four Seasons also has exclusive rights to a number of local growers, he said.
"They'll go out and procure things from growers, local stuff, and it's grown specifically for Four Seasons," Pinciotti said.
"Once we start getting into private branding, and once we start getting into home grown, it should translate into better overall results for the entire [division]."
When it comes to produce, the Philadelphia market has been somewhat of an aberration compared with the other regions covered by Fleming, Pinciotti noted; the overwhelming majority of Fleming operations handle produce "in-house," he explained.
"We do not have produce in-house; we've never done it in the 15 years I've been here," Pinciotti said of the Oaks division.
Fleming's Oaks division supplies more than 300 stores, including roughly 160 store group units under the American Family, Shop-N-Bag and Thriftway banners.