Grocery: A Cut of the Action

C-stores work to cultivate customer interest in fresh produce

By  Amanda Baltazar, Freelance writer

Tedeschi Food Shops has multiple points in its stores, in refrigerated cases and on displays, where customers can find produce.
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Fresh produce sales jumped 4.8% last year, according to a recent United Fresh Produce Association report.

The association’s “FreshFacts on Retail” shows the top 10 fruit and vegetable categories all climbed, with avocados posting the highest growth, 11.7%.

So the good news: Consumers are eating more fresh produce.

The bad news: C-stores aren’t selling much of it.

“Freshness perceptions of convenience stores are a problem,” says Ed Burcher, president of Burcher Consulting, Oakville, Ontario, and former foodservice specialist for Wawa and Petro-Canada. “They are perceived as overpriced, dirty and not fresh.”

There are also issues of trust, says Michelle Barry, president and CEO of Centric Brand Anthropology, a Seattle-based brand and retail consultancy. “C-stores, in general, have not had a halo of freshness or quality when it comes to food,” she says.

Despite this, some c-store retailers are having success with produce. Sales of produce at Tedeschi Food Shops, Rockland, Mass., were up 8% in 2013 over 2012, with similar growth reported year to date.

“We are taking produce extremely seriously,” says Bob Goodwin, director of fresh foods. “We’re trying to grow the fresh side of the business, so the store feels more like a neighborhood fresh store where they can get meat, produce, flowers and fresh bread.”

This, he says, is because of the stigma that convenience stores carry, “that we revolve around cigarettes, gum, newspapers and lottery. These categories are all eroding and the fresh categories need to pick up the slack. If done right, the store will be more profitable for the changes.”

Tedeschi typically carries 12 to 14 produce items: apples, oranges, pears, bananas, lemons, limes, potatoes (a 3-pound bag), 2-pound bags of onions, garlic, carrots, romaine lettuce, iceberg, tomatoes, cucumbers and celery. The best sellers are bananas (34% of produce sales), followed by other whole fruit such as apples and oranges (23%) and seasonal produce including berries (17%).

Last year Tedeschi began a major push toward seasonal produce. “Recognizing certain items pop at certain times of year,” says Goodwin, “we wanted to do seasonal items and only do them at peak of season, and peak of flavor, and also at the best cost.”

The stores are starting with strawberries from California this spring, then will move into blueberries, corn, cherries and personal-size watermelons; summer fruit such as peaches, nectarines and plums; and clementines December to January.

“We got tremendous increases last year when we did those items for a limited time,” Goodwin says.

It helps that Tedeschi had a great marketing program along with the fruits it brought in. It got the word out via social media, as well as on its website, when the fruits were available in stores. If the company had enough lead time, it put together signage for the month, including in-store and window signs.

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