LAS VEGAS — It’s not often that one gets to hear secrets directly from retail produce managers.

From what they’re seeing at store level in organic produce to the greatest display they ever built, 10 recipients of United Fresh’s Retail Produce Manager Award dished on what makes their operations successful during a session April 22.

Produce managers share success tips

The session was moderated by Steve Lutz, executive vice president of The Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., and broadcast live on It is available for replay on the Web site.

Some of the more lively discussion revolved around what managers see at the store level in organic produce.

Organics continue to grow

Despite the economy, shoppers still look for organics, said Willie Williams, of an Englewood, Ohio, location of The Kroger Co., Cincinnati.

“Price doesn’t matter to some shoppers,” he said. “At my store we used to do $500 a week and now we do $8,000 to $9,000 a week.”

At Bel Air Markets in Sacramento, Calif., a Raley’s banner, John Thut said he carries a wide assortment of organic produce.

“We have 24 feet, plus dry table space,” he said. “Price points have come closer and the quality is there.”

Lutz asked if there is a magic price point for organics.

“For new organic consumers, that’s where it’s an issue,” said Gary Viall, produce manager for the Colonie, N.Y., location of Hannaford Bros. Co. “It’s hard to pick that sweet spot. They expect to pay a little more, but if it’s a lot more you lose even the frequent buyers.”

Organic shoppers also keep you on your toes, Williams said.

“An organic customer is a serious customer,” he said. “They’re in the store most often and they stay the longest.”

Attracting, keeping diverse audiences

Managers weighed in on how to attract and maintain ethnically diverse audiences.

For Juronald Williams, produce manager of the Ord Community Comissary, Seaside, Calif., it is a matter of trying new things.

“You have to get to know the customers at first,” he said. “If I don’t carry an item they want, I’ll see if I can get it.”

Willie Williams said the custom orders are a great way to keep a customer loyal.

“Once you’ve shown that you can get something for someone, that earns their trust,” he said. “And it spreads in the community fast.”