(May 8) Perishables are making a difference. In fact, nearly 50% of total store sales come from perishables (including produce, meat, bakery and deli), said Steve Lutz, executive vice president for the Perishables Group, Carpentersville, Ill.

Lutz spoke May 6 during a workshop at the Food Marketing Institute convention in Chicago. Of those perishables groups noted, produce is second only to the meat and seafood department in sales.

The growth of perishables is outpacing growth in the total store, Lutz said. The produce department generates an average of $30.21 in weekly sales per square foot of selling space, he said.

Perishables are “key drivers” in today’s society, Lutz said. Consumers are less likely to create a meal from scratch and more likely to assemble a meal.

As a result of the changing times, suppliers and retailers are moving toward new management practices, namely collecting specific data that can help retailers make good buying decisions.

“Supply relationships with retailers are going to be very tight,” Lutz predicts. In fact, retailers today expect their suppliers to know the right product, the right stores, the right time and the right price for each commodity.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., for example, makes suppliers meet a checklist to ensure that they share Wal-Mart’s vision for success, Lutz said. Such partnerships will allow both parties involved to measure performance and maximize the category potential, he said.

Lutz proposes that retailers conduct research in stores, asking consumers what criteria they use when making a produce purchase. This allows retailers to get a dynamic response that likely would not be the same if the store were conducting a telephone survey, he said. Then, retailers can use that information to create new sales opportunities.