In this ongoing series, Canadian Grocer catches up with produce leaders from across the country
Fresh Perspectives is a new series from Canadian Grocer, in partnership with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), where we check in with produce leaders from across the country to find out how consumer behaviours are changing, what are the biggest challenges for produce and what is the outlook for this critical department? Here we talk to Mimmo Franzone, director, produce and floral at Longo’s.
Pandemic aside, what are the biggest challenges facing produce departments? I would say weather. With changing weather patterns over the last five, 10 years, things aren’t as predictable as they used to be. Seasons either start two, three weeks early or two, three weeks late and you always need to make adjustments. The important piece to this is to build strong relationships where you can get the support of your partners to either help you lengthen a season or try to get out of a season quicker. You’ve got to play both sides, right. When your local season is two weeks late, for example, you need your partners south of the border to extend their season for you. And then vice-versa, when it’s early and you want to move quicker to local, if you have strong relationships, they’ll understand the importance of your shift and won’t be caught off guard.
We hear that consumers are expressing a bigger desire to support local. Do you see it playing a more important part of your produce offer going forward? Yeah, it's always been important, but I think it's more important now. We're a true regional retailer and all the governments around us are trying to get people to support local businesses.
Shrink is a big problem in any fresh department; what are the best strategies for minimizing it in produce? On the procurement side, it’s understanding the needs of your customer and buying for their needs. In most cases, that’s going to help you turn over product quicker. Again, back to relationships. Build strong relationships with your grower partners to ensure they’re growing the best varieties for you. Also, be fresh and first into new seasons; so as commodities shift from growing regions all over the world, the quicker you are into the new season and out of the old one, the product is fresher and should minimize your shrink.
What are the key elements of your merchandising strategy? First and foremost, it’s the freshest product at the best price. We’re really big on value. The actual retail of the product is important, but again, if you’re priced higher than your competitor but are showing value—whether it’s a different variety, different size, that’s important. We’re also really big on solution-based merchandising; so how do you sell tomatoes, sweet onions and a bunch of basil together and educate consumers on what to do with them? If you can create solutions, you should increase sales and consumption. Longo’s also puts out a quarterly magazine, highlighting what’s best in season and how to cook it. So it’s a combination of value, freshness, education and solution-based merchandising.
What’s the most innovative produce product you’ve seen over the last while? Last fall we had some fun with some red flesh apples out of Washington state -- the Lucy Glo and the Lucy Rose. For the first time we were able to get a good tasting red flesh apple. Last fall, when we could still do demos--that will look a little different this fall--our guests were intrigued by the colour when they tasted them they thought they were fantastic. It was definitely an exciting three, four weeks when we had those apples.
What would you say is the outlook for produce? I think as consumers continue to stay home, demand is going to be that much greater. We just need to ensure that our grower partners are creating safe environments in order to harvest and bring the produce to us. We're fortunate that our partners haven't had to close their facilities and stop harvesting. I think as an industry, we just need to work together and create safe environments on the farm and at store level. And I think we're fortunate that our industry is probably a top of class right now and thriving as we continue through these tough times.