CHICAGO -- Organic produce sections can bring new shoppers into supermarkets, produce department managers said during a seminar at the United Produce Show at FMI.
The managers identified organic sections in response to the question, "Are there key items that will drive new faces to your stores?" Acting as moderator, Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., presented a series of questions related to selling and merchandising produce.
Serving on the panel were produce department heads who were recognized this year as top managers by the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association. They offered a broad range of marketing ideas for other retailers and produce vendors who filled the room.
"We've got customers driving 30-plus miles" for the new organic produce section, said Wade VanGinkel, produce department manager at a Kings Sooper City Markets store in El Jebel, Colo.
"We started with four feet [of organic produce]," said Vincent Mochocki, who manages a produce department at a Jewel-Osco store in Glendale Heights, Ill. "Now, we're talking about expanding to 24 feet. People are getting more educated" about the merits of organic produce.
Lutz generated lots of responses to his question, "How do you trigger a purchase?" Todd Alston cracked up the audience when he replied, "Slow them down." Produce department associates should interact with shoppers by offering samples of fruits and vegetables, and explaining how the items can be cooked or used, said Alston, the produce department manager at a Brookshire Grocery Co. store in Tyler, Texas.
One manager suggested offering a good assortment of convenient, grab-and-go produce items. Another said produce departments should strive to satisfy different groups of customers with different priorities.
"You've got to cater to everybody's needs," said Dave Weber, a manager at a Fred Meyer store in Bend, Ore. "There are people looking for a bargain. Other customers, if it's good quality, they don't care how much it costs. They'll buy it."
When asked to identify destination categories, managers identified potatoes, bananas, fresh leafy items and ethnic products. In fact, demand for bananas is so strong that the Jewel-Osco store sets up a rack of bananas in the ice cream aisle during the summer as a convenience for shoppers, Mochocki said of his store.
When asked for examples of successful promotions, one manager touted the benefits of merchandising locally grown produce. "In the summer months, we have locally grown corn," said Joel Bowman, a department manager at a Food City K-VA-T store in Bristol, Tenn. "We set up sidewalk sales outside."
Panelists offered many different suggestions when asked, "What helps you sell product?" Vendors could supply videos that show how the products are grown, and how they can be used, one manager said. Another suggested suppliers provide recipes and coupons. Products should be contained in packages that are attractive and do not cover up too much of the product, another manager noted. Sampling programs also help boost sales, another speaker pointed out.
Lutz got mixed responses to his question, "How is cut fruit moving?" Product shelf life and consistency of flavor continue to be a challenge, one speaker said. Whereas Mochocki noted cut-fruit sales at his Jewel-Osco store are quite strong.
"Cut fruit is a great seller in Chicago," he said. "Graduations, birthdays, Easter -- any special occasion. All you have to do is put it on the table."
To make fresh fruits and vegetables more convenient, the industry should work on packing products so they can be microwaved, and packing them in small containers to appeal to smaller households, speakers said.
Consumers seem to care where their produce comes from only when there's a problem with the item, one manager said in response to a question about how important country of origin is to shoppers.