Organic produce suppliers say they’ll urge conventional retailers to get involved in organics only if they’re ready to make a commitment to the category.

If that commitment is deep enough, a retailer can reap significant profits, those marketing agents note.

It takes coordination between supplier and customer, said Ron Carkoski, president and chief executive officer of Four Seasons Produce in Ephrata, Pa.

“The first step is to get the retailer to understand why they should do that and give it a good try and give it a commitment; there has to be a real commitment from the retailer,” Carkoski said.

That commitment extends to the supplier, Carkoski said.

“A supplier has to do everything they can to provide the solution with that retailer,” he said. “Remember, he’s going in with a conventional mindset. This has different perceptions from conventional commodities. We need to make it foolproof inside the store. That’s front-end training.”

The supplier also must be prepared to ship all the product a customer demands, said Chris Smotherman, salesman with Kern Ridge Growers LLC, Arvin, Calif.

“If somebody came to us, from our standpoint, it would be, ‘What kind of volume are you looking for?’ and whether we are able to put enough acreage to support it,” Smotherman said.

Four Seasons’ “Organic Made Easy” organic fruit and vegetable packaging program is another tool designed to help retail customers with their organic program, Carkoski said.

“Our merchandisers help them set the rack and help them work through the merchandising of the product,” he said. “They work with the customer to make sure they’re ordering the right product, helping them choose the right product and see the difference.”

A retailer looking to get into organics or increase involvement in the category needs to map a plan and set benchmarks for the program’s growth, Carkoski noted.

“You have to always have a goal in mind,” he said. “Set the goal at the beginning so you have a target to achieve, and measure it along the way and then effectively at the end of the period — maybe the end of the quarter — you see what you’re achieving and maybe adjust and fine-tune it and ultimately you have a program that sustains itself.”

Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets Inc. has a longstanding commitment to the organic category, said Maria Brous, spokeswoman for chain.

“Publix has been selling organic produce since the 1990s and has made much progress in this area,” Brous said. “As long as our customers show an interest in this category, Publix will continue to offer organic products.”

A retailer looking to introduce organics should start with basic, mainstream items that will sell quickly, said David Lively, marketing director at Eugene, Ore.-based Organically Grown Co.

“In produce, what we’ve done in the past is don’t go crazy and put a lot of items out there that are highly perishable and you don’t have a market for it,” he said. “You start with 10, 12, maybe 20 items, a basic rack.”

But it doesn’t stop there, Lively said.

“The other deal is they’ve got to keep those racks really nice,” he said. “There’s no point in leaving it in what some people call a ‘food museum,’ or ‘organic ghetto,’ with a bunch of wrinkled items. If all you have an organic ghetto, it won’t sell. You’ve got to cull your rack and move it to a part of the department where it sells.”

Savvy organic retailers are well aware of that philosophy, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers.

“Today, we have a lot of integration going on in organics,” he said. “There’s better fixturing in the departments. You have integrated organic displays where the whole display may be organic but it’s integrated in the center of the department.”

There’s also still some segregation, but it’s done shrewdly, Pepperl said.

“There are bigger sets with 20 to 50 items that are easy for anybody to pick up and sell, let alone 500,” he said. “I think supermarkets have totally changed how they’ve laid out their departments in what they put out there in SKU (stock-keeping unit) selection.”