LAS VEGAS — Kroger Co.’s Willie Williams Jr., preparing to receive United Fresh Produce Association’s Retail Produce Manager of the year award, figured the obligatory handshake and photograph just wouldn’t suffice for the occasion.

Instead, Williams bounded on stage and celebrated with a back-spinning breakdance routine, to the delight of the awards ban-quet crowd April 22 at United Fresh’s 2010 convention.

Williams was among 25 retail produce managers who received the award.

Based in Englewood, Ohio, Williams, who said he was in a breakdancing group in the early 1980s, has applied his entertain-ment skills to boost business at his stores.

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Last year, Williams dressed up as Michael Jackson and put on a tribute show at his store to coincide with the release of the de-ceased singer’s “This is It” movie.

“It brought in a lot of new customers,” Williams said after the awards banquet.
About 500 people turned out for the Michael Jackson show, he said.

Other winners of the award showed a similar knack for attention-getting promotions and creative store displays. Many also supported local charities.

James Grande, with King Soopers in Aurora, Colo., “attempts to create theater with his displays,” according to a United Fresh brochure. Grande also grows giant pumpkins that weigh nearly 1,000 pounds, one of which was displayed at a Denver Broncos Monday Night Football game.

Among the “most memorable” displays led by Cris Gutierrez, of Raley’s Family of Fine Stores in Reno, Nev., was a 5-foot-tall Christmas tree made out of fruit and surrounded by gift ideas, as well as a football field made from avocados and other fruit to match NFL team colors.

Gutierrez also participates in elementary school tours to educate children about fresh produce and donates fruits and vegetables to several community organizations, according to the produce
association.

The other 2010 Retail Produce Manager award winners are:

  • Douglas Collins, Food City, Prestonburg, Ky.;
  • Lynette DeClerck, Niemann Foods, Pana, Ill.;
  • Brent Doud, Safeway Stores Inc., Albany, Ore.;
  • Samuel D. Fannin, Kroger, Reynoldsburg, Ohio;
  • Jeff Freeman, Save Mart, Clovis, Calif.;
  • Judy Gauthier, Buy-Low Foods, Athabasca, Alberta;
  • Steve Gray, MOM’s Organic Market, Frederick, Md.;
  • Angela Hamilton, Al’s Supermarkets, La Porte, Ind.;
  • Claudette Johnson, Jewel-Osco, Plainfield, Ill.;
  • Lannie W. Kiser Jr., Brookshire Grocery Co., Kaufman, Texas;
  • Valerie Lambert, Food City, Wise, Va.;
  • Ryan Lindner, Hy-Vee Inc., Madison, Wis.;
  • Jeff Oelfke, Chief Supermarket Inc., Bryan, Ohio;
  • Lisa Paulis, Vons, La Jolla, Calif.;
  • Joseph Ortiz, Brookshire Grocery, Monroe, La.;
  • Shawn Seely, Price Chopper Supermarkets/Golub Corp., Edwardsville, Pa.;
  • Rick Stolarik, Big Y Foods, Tolland, Conn.;
  • John Thut, Bel Air Markets/Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, Sacramento, Calif.;
  • Gary Viall, Hannaford Bros. Co., Colonie, N.Y.;
  • Juronald Williams, Ord Community Commisary, Seaside, Calif.;
  • John Wombacher, Hy-Vee, Iowa City, Iowa; and
  • Craig Yamane, Bel Air Markets/Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, Sacramento.