John Vasapoli (from left) of D’Agostino’s Supermarkets, Jan DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission and Howard Nager of Domex Superfresh Growers, talk after a workshop on independent retailing at the National Grocer’s Association Show Feb. 13 in Las Vegas.
John Vasapoli (from left) of D’Agostino’s Supermarkets, Jan DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission and Howard Nager of Domex Superfresh Growers, talk after a workshop on independent retailing at the National Grocer’s Association Show Feb. 13 in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS — A wide variety of opportunities are available for independent retailers to increase produce sales.

That was the message from five industry veterans to attendees at the “Increasing Produce Sales” workshop Feb. 13 at the National Grocer’s Association Show at the Mirage Hotel.

Anthony Barbieri, vice president of sales and business development for the Produce Marketing Association, moderated the workshop, and said the attendees’ interest in produce-related content was encouraging.

“We had a full house,” he said. “They had to bring in more chairs.”

Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission, talked about messages and materials the commission plans to feature in the upcoming season. She also talked about what a promotion board like the commission has to offer retailers, such as merchandising materials, bins and category management assistance.

Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers, talked about the importance of providing a reliable, consistent supply to customers, and focusing on the top sellers in the apple category to increase overall sales.

“The top six apple varieties are 77% of sales,” he said. “Everyone is searching for that next Honeycrisp, but these are the varieties that are driving the business.”

He also stressed the importance of ideal placement for pears to increase sales.

“Pears have become a good color break for merchandisers,” he said. “But if you promote apples and pears together, both sales increase.”

Peter Steinbrick, director of marketing for Los Angeles-based Melissa’s World Variety Produce, talked about how independent retailers can grow their sales with specialty produce through engagement and communication.

He also discussed how Melissa’s works with retail customers to promote “seasonal wow” items, a 6- or 8-week program featuring in-season specialties that retailers can highlight through targeted promotions. Steinbrick pointed to the success of Hatch chile programs as an example.

John Vasapoli, director of produce merchandising and food safety at New York-based D’Agostino’s Supermarkets Inc., talked about how his chain of stores in the New York City area turned its produce sales around through doubling organic offerings.

The small format retailer carries about 350 stock-keeping units in about 600-750 square foot produce departments. Over the past year, the company doubled its organic SKUs to about 80-100, depending on seasonality.

“We put a heavy emphasis on organics in our weekly ads and did in-store signage and chalk boards that displayed how many organic or local items we have in a day,” he said. “We showed a 21% increase in organic produce sales and a 9%-15% increase as a percentage in sales.”

The company reinforced the organic program with enhanced training sessions for its produce manager.

“They became better sellers, and produce is more of a service department, the same as meat and deli,” he said.