CARTERET, N.J. -- Pathmark Stores has chosen its fresh produce department as the launching site of the retailer's "Take a Fresh Look at Pathmark" multimedia advertising campaign. The simultaneous rollout across the chain's 143 stores throughout New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware features an associate educational initiative led by a top local television produce personality.
"Produce has always been a primary department at Pathmark," said Rich Savner, the retailer's director of public affairs. "We found that with potentially 500 different items in the produce section, both our employees and customers required more information, tips and guidance about how to prepare and cook these items."
Pathmark wanted a recognizable figure to front its ongoing campaign and, according to Savner, could think of no finer choice than Peter "Produce Pete" Napolitano. Well known in Pathmark's marketing area, Napolitano is not only a media personality who regularly appears on "Weekend Today in New York" on an WNBC affiliate that reaches about 15 million viewers. He's also a 30-year produce veteran, with his own produce establishment in Bergen County, New Jersey. Now he's adding instructor to his list of credits.
Pathmark's produce merchandising department, in collaboration with Napolitano, created a training program that also involves an instructional video and printed guide, which is a more detailed version of the video. The chain spent about six months planning and implementing the program.
"This is more than a simple advertising campaign. It's part of ongoing training and customer service," Savner told SN. "We believe that enhanced customer service translates into fully satisfied customers and it shows them we're taking the extra step."
Initially, all Pathmark's produce managers received 40 hours of training, conducted in certain regional stores, by Napolitano and corporate personnel. The program addressed best practices as to produce handling and display, and how to address typical consumer questions, ranging from peak ripeness of individual items to particular products preferred by specific ethnic groups.
After completing the instructional phase, all managers had to take a test to assess mastery of the material and to qualify for certification as a "Pete's Produce Pro." This honor nets new attire -- a beige shirt and green apron -- with "Pete's Produce Pro" noted on the uniform.
"Failing the exam was not an option," Savner said, adding that any managers who didn't make the grade would need to re-take the test until they passed it.
Once back at their assigned stores, the newly minted Pete's Produce Pro managers oversee the same instruction for their produce associates, with on-the-job training, accompanied by the same print guides and videos. Associates also need to pass the exam to receive their new, certification-affixed uniforms.
Print guides will get updated regularly, as more produce-related health and nutritional topics become hot issues.
Another feature of the campaign is the animated supermarket cart, the focal point of Pathmark's television commercials. Sometimes the carts talk to each other, discussing the chain's fresh look. More recently, they interact with Produce Pete. The commercials are broadcast in the metropolitan New York area, as well as Pennsylvania.
In addition to television ads, Produce Pete has become a familiar presence in Pathmark circulars.
Centerfolds were dedicated to the new program in the weeks following the debut of the program. The section includes not only regular sale items, but also "Produce Pete's Pick of the Week." Here, a particular fresh fruit or vegetable is featured, with a short description of the item, freshness tips and serving suggestions.
The items vary every week. A recent pick was Ugly Ripe Tomatoes, a name Napolitano urged shoppers to ignore.
"These tomatoes are called 'Ugly' -- but don't be fooled by their name. They have a delicious home-grown taste and they should never be refrigerated," he wrote.
On the opposite side of the centerfold, space is reserved for a snapshot of a newly graduated Produce Pro, along with his name and store location. In-store signage is another cornerstone of the initiative, and is used to support the information in the circulars.
Currently, Napolitano is making scheduled appearances at two Pathmark stores a week, Savner said, adding that some customers have been waiting in line to ensure they get time to meet him.
"One customer brought Produce Pete a piece of fruit to autograph," said Savner. "I think he's overwhelmed."