(June 28) HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Apples may be comparable to apples and oranges to oranges, but sales trends can lean more toward contrast.

That can cost a retailer money, according to Hoffman Estates-based Fresh Look Marketing.

Accessing information that provides insight into that kind of information is the idea behind a new category-management database developed by Fresh Look Marketing.

The database — yet unnamed — is scanner-based and contains data on fresh-produce sales within any retailer’s given marketplace.

Fresh Look, which unveiled the program June 22, said that the database allows participating produce retailers to compare their sales performance with rivals within their own market.

“While a retailer has always been able to look at his own sales, he had no way of benchmarking his performance,” said Mark Degner, Fresh Look’s president and chief executive officer. “Now it is easy for him to pinpoint his strengths, weaknesses and opportunities, vs. the overall market.

“Jewel (Food Stores Inc., a Chicago-based retail chain), for example, stretches from Milwaukee almost down to St. Louis. So, Jewel’s view of the market is very large compared to, say, (Safeway Inc.-owned) Dominick’s, which focuses a little tighter around the borders of Chicago. So, what this database is designed to do is help to compare our sales against the market they compete in.”

Data are compiled from 17,000 supermarkets and 125 retail accounts, and the program includes as much as two years of historical information on about 120 fruits and vegetables, Degner said, adding that retailers can view sales in their own market areas as well as wider regions.

“The database provides the retailer with monthly information, standardized definitions and the ability to accurately measure his sales results with that of the specific geographic area in which he competes,” Degner said.

The idea certainly isn’t new.

In February, the Chicago-based Perishables Group announced a partnership with ACNielsen U.S. that makes use of point-of-sale scanner data that provides produce department suppliers and retailers with a report on the fresh market from 30,000 census stores from all major retailers in all major markets.

The Perishables Group program uses ACNielsen information going back to Jan. 1.

“We have back data from other sources going back two years,” said Kari Volyn, a spokeswoman for The Perishables Group.

Fresh Look’s service can provide crucial information on specific items, Degner said.

“Without a valid means of comparison, a retailer, for example, might be very pleased with a 3% increase in sales of bananas in his Chicago-area stores,” Degner said. “However, he would be less satisfied if he knew that banana sales in the overall Chicago market were up 10%. Our database gives him that critical perspective.”

A key to the service is helping retailers to differentiate their produce departments from those of competitors, Degner said, adding that retailers’ merchandising strategies tend to vary.