How exactly would you define “good” produce?
Is it really, as many of us have come to believe growing up in the produce ranks, that only the perfect, unblemished piece of fruit qualifies as “good” — especially in chains that consider themselves premier or even elite markets?
The short answer to these questions is a simple “no.”
What every produce manager should know about quality is that it comes in many grades, shapes and sizes and there is a market for everything.
Take apple grades, for example.
The high-end grocer catering to the well-heeled will likely carry the equivalent of WAXF (Washington extra-fancy) or even WAXF premium, which is the near-flawless, gift-grade fruit. The reds will be nearly purple in color, the grannies absent of any blush, as are the goldens.
This kind of grocer also is prone to carrying only a No. 1-2 size range, and you can bet this range will be big — an 88 count or larger — all to impress the shopper with “discriminating taste.”
But it doesn’t mean the actual flavor will vary from the discount market down the street.
Venturing further down to this kind of market, where the cars parked in the lot aren’t quite as new and where more people in blue collars are more prevalent, is a different set of apple offerings.
This display may consist of a more economical 3- or even 5-pound bag. The twist-lock tag may read extra fancy or fancy grade. I’ve even seen this display with a ‘hail-grade’ distinction. The apples may have less color or have some other slight imperfections.
But as long as the apples are fresh, rotated and culled, the difference between the grades is merely skin-deep. Within both grades are equal amounts of nutrition, crispness and flavor.
Once, during a trip to visit an apple shipper in Wenatchee, Wash., a buyer jokingly asked, “So which of these orchards is the 100-count, and which is the 80-count?
That comment displays a certain level of misperception of grades and sizes, even among those who should know better. (As well as it gives you an idea of the lame humor produce people have, too).
Just as there are many grades and sizes to be marketed, there are grocery chain formats to match. Even the apples that don’t reach the fresh market at all are in high demand and are diverted to processors for any number of foodstuffs, from pies to juice.
The main point is this: Any produce department can be a “good” department, no matter what the grade or specifications in any particular category.
Wealthy neighborhood or not, the respectable produce department is clean, well-stocked and focuses on keeping everything fresh and maximizing sales.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail email@example.com.
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