(March 14) TROY, Mich. — Fresh produce remains an important part of Kmart’s reorganization plans and will continue to play a key role even as the retail giant closes 284 underperforming stores in its bankruptcy reorganization, a Kmart spokesman said.

“Produce is a significant part of the 137 supercenters we have, and part of what really differen-tiates the supercenter concept from a regular store,” said Stephen Pagnani, media relations man-ager for Kmart Corp., Troy.

Five supercenters were included in Kmart’s March 8 store closing announcement.

Retail analysts, however, believe the closing of the small number of supercenter stores will have little effect on the chain’s supercenter store focus.

“The impact on produce is minimal at best,” said Dick Spezzano, president of Spezzano Con-sulting Service inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Kmart’s exclusive grocery supplier, Fleming Cos., Lewisville, Texas, announced the store clos-ings by its largest customer would cut the wholesale supplier’s 2002 earnings outlook by 20 cents from its previous $2.70 per share, a 7.5% decline. Kmart’s business represents about 50 cents a share for Fleming’s earnings, Fleming officials say.

“Kmart is taking aggressive steps to cull out underperforming locations that are difficult and costly for us to serve as well,” Mark Hansen, Fleming’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer told investment analysts in a March 11 conference call.

Kmart’s commitment to produce is seen by the company’s movement of the produce aisle from the back of the store to the store’s entrance as the chain converts regular Kmarts to supercenters.

“Produce is certainly integral to the stores,” Pagnani said. “It’s part of the shopping experience. Produce is attractive. It’s something you definitely see, all those fresh fruits and vegetables, when you come in. It definitely tells you there’s a grocery store there. It’s a good sales generator for us.”