ORLANDO, Fla. — Tote bags, especially clear ones, sell more produce.

And in a tough economy, it’s best to put your specials deeper in the department.

Those were some of the insights of the “From the Front Lines: How Produce Managers connect with the Supply Chain” session led by Harold Lloyd at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit.

The session featured produce managers chosen by Lloyd, who prepped the panel with topics including the economy, organics, country-of-origin labeling and packaging.

Produce managers tell it like it is

Pamela Riemenschneider

Tim Millett, center, of Lin's Marketplace and Mike Clay of Save Mart, right, display a sign for Vincent Ottolino of Caputo's talks about his company's locally grown produce programs during the "From the Front Lines: How Produce Managers Connect with the Supply Chain" session at the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in Orlando.

Mile markers

Local produce is a big hit for Chicago-based Angelo Caputo’s New Farm Produce said produce merchandiser Vincent Ottolino.

Caputo’s doesn’t rely solely on the “local” designation, however; Ottolino said signs tell shoppers how far away farms — in miles — are from the store.

Caputo’s also works closely with local growers, going so far as to provide the seeds for specific varieties they want to carry in the store.

“We tell them what we want for the next season,” Ottolino said. “It works for the famers and works for us.”

Origin labeling

Shoppers do want to know where their produce comes from, panelists said. They had some advice for grower-shippers and marketers.

It’d be great if the industry could standardize where the country of origin labels appear, said Dennis Goodwin, produce manager for Sweetbay Supermarkets, Crystal River, Fla.

Nothing to hide

Packaging also was a lively discussion. The panelists agreed that tote bags help sell volumes, especially in a tough economy.

The key to sales, they said, is in the material the totes are made of.

All four panelists said they prefer clear — not translucent — bags.

“If you can’t see inside, shoppers wonder what you have to hide,” said Tim Millett, produce merchant, of Lin’s Marketplace, St. George, Utah.

Mike Clay, produce manager of Modesto, Calif.-based SaveMart Supermarkets also participated in the session.