Chris Dove, Vic Savanello, and Chris Keetch talk Supply/Retail Relationships, Food Safety, and What to Look For in Southern Innovations Panel
NASHVILLE, TN - Whether your retail audience is premium, affordable, or the full gamut, this was one panel that answered to those desired targets. The Southeast Produce Council’s Organic Produce Merchandising Session was too good to be missed, spanning purchasing, desires when partnering with suppliers, food safety, and the handling of recalls...there was hardly a question left unanswered.
- Chris Dove, VP Produce Category, Merchandising, and Pricing, Food Lion
Dove explained that his target audience is value-based, but not at the expense of quality and flavor.
“We prefer to segregate where we can; I would say for Food Lion the maturity of our organic consumer is still very young,” he explained. “We really have to help them find their product within the store, so we do as much as we can with packaging, with signage, with shelf-toppers, things of that nature. Where we can we try to segregate; we don’t necessarily see integration or segregation outperforming each other, so we’ll continue to try both as we move forward.”
- Vic Savanello, Vice President of Produce, The Fresh Market
Savanello describes The Fresh Market as an entertainment brand rather than a supermarket, with a philosophy of making every-day eating extraordinary.
“We don’t drive product through low points or incredible sales; our big base on selling product is presenting and packaging it the right way and having products that are exciting and would be used in recipes, and providing recipes to our customers as well,” Vic shared. “We carry many items that are exclusively organic—anything that is not a core high-quantity item I go organic first as opposed to conventional, primarily to reduce shrink...It benefits myself, the consumer, you’re getting fresher product, and we’re allowed to put fresher product on the stand.”
- Chris Keetch, Director of Produce and Floral, Giant/Martin’s
Keetch explained that his stores place a lot of focus on private label Nature’s Promise, saying national produce brands in organics perform very well but Nature’s Promise ties everything together such that, given the opportunity, it is the preference.
“We try to go out there and make sure we help the availability and boost awareness in the store, which helps not only the legacy shoppers but also the very new shoppers that come in,” Keetch stated. “We offer both segregated and integrated, determined by floor space. We’ve found organic isn’t so much a novelty anymore—it’s become a destination and we do our best to accommodate that.”
Making the Grade Supply to Retail
Panel Moderator Phil Lempert asked each buyer to rate the relationships between supply- and buy-sides and how those grades could be improved.
“I’d say C+ to B. In regards to organic, what is really important to Food Lion is having consistency of product,” Dove pointed out. “We still experience, at times, gaps in being able to service our consumer, and woven in that is meeting the quality expectations that our consumers have. Just continuing to have that partnership and understanding of how we can grow our organic sales and business for all service levels involved.”
Keetch gave the relationship a C as well, saying maintaining transparency so his partners know what Giant wants to accomplish is key.
“From the supplier side coming to us, I think making sure we are in tune with what the marketplace is doing is key. We lean heavily on our California suppliers and those doing business with retailers in the Pacific Northwest, asking what’s new, what’s hot, what’s coming our way over here on the East Coast. A lot of times the supplier has that insight before we do, unless the trade picks it up. So, I think it’s that two-way street and just maintaining that level of trust,” he explained.
Savanello gave the relationship a B, stating there’s always room for improvement but expressing confidence in current partnerships.
“There’s always opportunities for new and innovative things to come out,” he added. “Any growers who have special things, commodities they’re working on, we love to embrace it and I’d love to hear about it.”
It’s the topic everyone agrees keeps them up at night. The retail-side spoke of the supply-side's efforts in safety with high praise, but there will always be a desire to do more.
“I won’t mention the supplier’s name, but we have a supplier that said enough’s enough. We never were really able to determine what the source [of the Romaine breakout] was, and so they are bringing in a few experts to delve deeper,” Dove said. “To me, those are the type of things we love to see as a retailer: Where is it that the suppliers take ownership not only of the status quo of food safety, but where it is we want to go and how do we put in practice the ways to keep food safe in the future?”
Keetch agreed, stating, “It’s one of the things that’s completely outside of our control at the source and a question we ask suppliers in our meetings, whether it be a new supplier or semi-annual reviews. We really stress traceability—I know there’s a lot of new technologies and processes on the forefront, but I think the supplier community, the retailing community, and, fortunately— or unfortunately—the government entities getting involved and making sure that’s stressed is of the utmost importance is protecting the supply chain. It’s not just a sales drag when something happens: people’s lives are changed, people’s lives are unfortunately lost, and I think it’s paramount for all of us in food, purveying and growing, that it should be number one to make sure we’ve secured that supply chain and to know how to react if we have to react.”
What to Look Out For
In speaking to areas for organic growth, and fresh produce in general, Savanello said the biggest area of opportunity in his opinion is value-added.
“The one area I’d love to see more development in and I would embrace wholeheartedly is organic value-added items that allow not having to handle in-store. It becomes very difficult with organic for us to touch anything when it comes to value-added. That’s where my significant growth is, and anything that comes to us in that as an innovation would be very well received by us,” he commented.
Other areas of interest are creative colors and specs outside the norm, flavorful offerings that extend the season of a commodity without putting off the consumer, and innovations the retailers had yet to know to ask for.
Readers, I’d post the entire transcript of what was shared, but it would violate our promise to you to make events in this industry easy to digest. This gives just some insight into the great minds of Chris Dove, Vic Savanello, and Chris Keetch, as we as an industry look to enhance these partnerships. Special thanks to Southern Innovations for this and future opportunities to bring to light next steps to further fresh produce.