NEW ORLEANS — A positive engaging attitude goes a long way toward produce manager excellence, but so do big displays.

Ten winners of the 2011 United Fresh Retail Produce Managers Awards shared their “Lessons from the Front Line” with Steve Lutz, executive vice president of The Perishables Group, Chicago on May 4.

Lutz asked winners what’s really moving well in their stores and several agreed on one item in particular: berries.

“Berries are No. 1 in our store over Pepsi and milk,” said DJ Bertoldi, produce manager at the Wilbraham, Mass., Big Y Foods.

Craig Docherty of Vons in Las Vegas said if berry displays aren’t ready when the store opens, there’s trouble.

“They’re a guaranteed sale in my store,” he said.

Paul Ferro, produce manager for Jewel-Osco in Chicago, said he’s seeing a lot of sales in fresh premium juices.

Locally grown produce also is a big hit with consumers, the panelists said, though definitions of “local” varied by state and growing region.

Bob Merritt, produce manager for Quality Food Centers, Seattle, Wash., said his store counts Idaho, Washington and Oregon as local.

David Dozier, produce manager at GFF Foods in Moore, Okla., said home state products were the big hitters, especially in tomatoes and melons.

Bertoldi said her store likes to feature individual grower profiles as part of its locally grown program.

Opinions also were mixed on the success of organic produce. In Seattle, for example, Merritt said his stores dropped some conventional items in favor of organics.

Donald Courtright, produce manager for Beale Airforce Bace Commissary in Beale, Calif., said his stores have slowly expanded the category over the past few years.

“Whenever I see a customer shopping in organic, I walk out there and ask what they’re looking for,” he said.

Managers said size does matter when it comes to value-added and packaged goods — smaller sizes, that is.

Michael Crutchfield of Safe Mart, Angels Camp, Calif., said a lot of older shoppers prefer smaller sizes.

“They ask me ‘where’s my size?’” he said.

Related story: Five retail produce managers receive grand prizes from United Fresh.

Produce Manager Award winners share secrets to success