Progressive Grocer

FEB 2017

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February 2017 | progressivegrocer.com | 43 "I n produce, it's freshness — that's what it's all about," asserts Jay Bennett, director of pro- duce for Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distributing (PWAD), in Bessemer, Ala. He has worked to streamline the stores' ordering system so product comes in as needed to keep it fresher on the shelves. With three or four produce deliveries a week, stores can easily adjust the amounts needed by what's selling. If strawberries are selling better than expected, store operators can simply adjust the amount needed for the next delivery. "From a service level, [the retailer] isn't in trouble for more than a day before another truck is rolling in," Bennett notes. Another aspect PWAD has focused on is educating retailers about how weather events can affect the end product that they'll get in their stores. In good growing conditions, citrus has a long shelf life, but Bennett sees his job as educating retailers that a lot of rain two months earlier, during the prime growing season, can affect the shelf life after the product has been picked — things retailers may not pay attention to or understand. Local is a huge trend in produce departments across the country, but PWAD services stores in five states, so what's local in one area may not be local in another. Part of the appeal of locally grown products is that customers like to support family farms, and it's that family-farm element that Bennett is focusing on in a new marketing program that will be rolled out in stores over the next several months. Stores will be able to pull a farm's information from a web portal and use the farm's photos and other pertinent informa- tion to market the product, similar to how many stores cur- rently market local products. "ese are literally family farms that are growing this product. ey may be in California or Washington, but you're still supporting that family. You're still supporting another independent small farm," Bennett says. "e concept is not to take away from a local philosophy." T he produce departments at Willy Street Co-op, which operates three locations in Madison and Middleton, Wis., are really the cornerstone of the business, notes Brendan Smith, director of communications. "Our produce department is kind of a destination spot in our city. I think people really appreciate our freshness and commitment to local. If you're going to have a commitment to local, it has to be based in the pro- duce department," he adds. Meghan Minnick, pur- chasing director, agrees, "We have relationships going back to the inception of our co-op, to the late '70s, with farms." Minnick and her team work with about 20 area growers to supply the stores, as well as three distributors out of the Twin Cities, to help keep the departments fully stocked with organic and conventional items. Because Minnick works so closely with area farmers, at times there's more product than she can sell, or there are times outside the local growing season when there's no local product to sell. To help mitigate this problem, she works with both the farmers and a processing facility to create a line of preserved local products sold under a Willy Street private label. Some products include canned tomatoes, diced toma- toes, frozen butternut squash cubes and frozen broccoli, as well as items used in the stores' prepared food departments, like local fruit that's preserved for use in anksgiving pies. "It's beneficial for everybody," Minnick says. "It's beneficial for the farmers because it helps them get rid of that surplus product that they can't necessarily sell fresh. It helps preserve the local season. It's been really great." Produce Piggly Wiggly Alabama Distributing, Bessemer, Ala. Willy Street Co-op, Madison, Wis.

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