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ATLANTA — Convenience stores that want to fulfill consumer desire for more fresh and healthy food will face extra challenges when it comes to produce, which has special distribution needs and spoils quickly. However, there are ways to meet these challenges, according to the "How to Get and Sell Produce" educational session held at last week's 2016 NACS Show.
Produce is an area of opportunity for a c-store industry that is seeing declining gas and tobacco sales, and a country where "obesity is truly a national problem," said presenter Kelly Jacob, vice president of retail and emerging channels for PRO*ACT LLC, a fresh food supply chain management national network. C-stores also have the advantage of often being open at hours when other retailers don't operate.
The starting point for c-store operators is to simply do their homework, investigating what produce they can offer that the nearest competitors don't, and how they can market it. Produce can be successful in c-stores without having to take up an entire department.
Bananas make a great start for stores with limited resources, as they require no refrigeration, are naturally wrapped in their own peels and have universal appeal. Lemons and limes also go well with beer sales, and apples are both well-appreciated by consumers and can be easily used in fresh-cut fruit dishes and parfaits.
According to Jacob, the four keys to starting a c-store produce program are:
1. Cleanliness. Customers will look at the restrooms first as an indicator of a store's level of cleanliness.
2. Marketing. Pumptoppers can alert customers that produce is available inside, and banners can help guide them once they enter the store.
3. Display. Produce can be positioned in a wide variety of merchandising units.
4. Consistency. A produce program can't be a hobby; customers want to know they can count on it being available.
"The opportunity of fresh produce is one that is not easy," acknowledged co-presenter McLane Co.'s Holly Veale, product director — foodservice, noting that produce does not fit nicely inside the typical wholesale model. However, she said fresh produce is worth it for benefits such as driving incremental foot traffic and sales; creating a "fresh halo" that increases the perception of other fresh and healthy items; the upcoming category growth; and retailers' civic duty to positively impact future generations.
Veale recommended that retailers partner with a supplier whose footprint matches theirs, thus improving distribution options. Retailers should also choose a supplier that offers a consistent item mix, already offers produce rather than being willing to do so, and has a system for traceability as it is dangerous for any business to not know where their produce comes from.
C-store operators should also be prepared to spend extra time training employees because implementing a produce program is frequently new to them, and produce requires special handling.
The 2016 NACS Show took place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta from Oct. 18-21.