ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Supermarket produce managers covered the do's and don'ts of making sales calls, pitching products, conducting retail promotions and providing follow-up service for a standing-room-only crowd gathered here for a seminar at the Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition.
Mike Orf, a produce manager with West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, a chain of 190 stores; Sam Sicchio of Roche Bros., a 16-store company based in Wellesley, Mass.; and Sam Fantauzzo, director of operations for Addison, Ill.-based Caputo's Fresh Markets, a three-store operation, covered a range of topics, many of interest to produce companies eager to win their business. They spoke on a panel moderated by Harold Lloyd, president of H. Lloyd and Associates, Virginia Beach, Va.
Lloyd led the panelists through a series of fill-in-the-blank discussion questions, many of them directed at improving retailer-supplier relations.
Speakers made several points in response to questions on what makes for a great vendor sales call, and what retailers wish vendors would stop doing.
When making sales calls, it's important for vendors to be knowledgeable of their own products, and bring product samples to the meeting, the panelists noted. When a vendor is unknown to the retailer, it's also better to schedule a meeting face-to-face with the retailer rather than simply make a phone call. Orf noted he's not inclined to give his business to an unknown vendor who merely pitches his products over the phone.
Vendors also should be straightforward early on about the cost of their products, Fantauzzo said, adding he'd rather not spend a lot of time going back and forth on the phone with a supplier without knowing the cost of the product right away.
Retailers indicated they appreciate a customized approach from vendors. During meetings with retail buyers, suppliers should be prepared to speak spontaneously about their products rather than simply recite a scripted pitch, Sicchio said.
"When they just come in and they're almost reading their pitch, I don't need to listen to a generic statement," he said.
Retailers also don't always like it when vendors talk about how their products are being merchandised at other supermarket companies.
"What works on this part of the country doesn't mean it works in your particular store," Fantauzzo said, adding suppliers should be familiar with the retailer's stores prior to the sales meeting.
Likewise, Orf said he's not impressed when vendors drop the names of other retailers who are selling their products. "I might not think Joe's a great operator," he said.
When asked to identify their No. 1 request of growers, shippers and vendors, Orf and Sicchio agreed vendors would do well to provide them with recipes and other literature that they can offer consumers at store level. Consumers have a lot of questions about food, and are concerned in particular about the health benefits of particular foods. Anything suppliers can do to answer consumer questions and educate them would help retailers.
Fantauzzo wants vendors to fulfill the promises they make over the phone. He's had suppliers describe a product over the phone, then deliver something different to his stores. "It happens very often especially with soft fruit," he said. "It's very common."
When asked to name the best produce packaging improvement suppliers could provide, Orf said he wants more fruit to be packed in resealable bags. For instance, grapes represent a large category for Hy-Vee. Yet the fruit tends to come packed in bags that are open on one end. The open-ends cause a lot of spillage, and that creates not only a messy floor but a potential safety hazard, he said.
Once cut, the plastic bags used to package salads tear easily, and Sicchio hears complaints about the bags from customers. He'd like more salads packed in resealable bags.
Caputo's Fantauzzo said he'd like to see more single-layer boxes for banana shipments to cut down on handling.