If they will line half a plate with a thin layer of lettuce leaves, some people will think they have met the government’s dietary recommendation.

Basics-only has its place but leaves a lot on the table

Chuck Robinson
Assistant Copy Chief

The quarter of a plate for protein they will stack about a foot tall with hamburger patties sandwiched between two pork chops.

Bless their enlarged hearts. That isn’t what the U.S. Department of Agriculture intended when it issued the half-a-plate-produce dietary recommendations in late January.

However, I am sure those types are out there, and they provide a conundrum for marketers of produce.

A two-headed dragon rules produce marketing. One of the heads acknowledges produce is healthful to eat, like medicine, but not something you choose over other items.

The other head aims to get people excited about tasting a bit of the good life and savoring fruits and vegetables as a part of an elevated and finer existence.

In another column I will talk about this second head.

Representing the first head of the marketing dragon, I offer again Dollar General Markets.

Dollar General has 9,000 discount merchandise stores in 35 states. In addition, the Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based chain has 57 Dollar General Market stores, which are larger than the traditional Dollar General and offer a range of perishable items, including produce.

These stores dot the area surrounding the chain’s corporate headquarters.

I offer many thanks to Joseph Fecke, senior buyer for Dollar General Markets, who in January took me to task for my dubiousness of Dollar General’s ability to create a store concept that offered perishables, including produce items.

He was a gentleman, and he acknowledged a perception problem that Dollar General must face.

“You are correct about overcoming the ‘dollar store’ image, which is not positive in the minds of most folks, including yours. This is not just a DG thing — but the whole dollar store sector,” Fecke said.

It is particularly a challenge with the meat department, where people assume food is a close-out item and are suspicious of even name brands. These aren’t close-out items at all, he said.

“We do better with produce, which can be touched and felt,” he said.

With fresh produce, consumers can feel confident about the quality by how fresh it looks.

Of course, Fecke said, Dollar General Markets relies upon some excellent suppliers for its produce, including Caito Foods, Indianapolis, and Salinas, Calif.-based River Ranch Fresh Foods, exclusive supplier of salad items for Dollar General Markets.

The key for Dollar General Markets is to not get too fancy in its produce selection, he said.

“Since the 60 (stock-keeping units) we carry are what 80% of what folks want to buy, we minimize much of the labor costs and shrink,” Fecke said. “We don’t carry artichokes or eggplants, for example.”

It will be up to others to expand the core number of produce items consumers eat.

On some level all consumers want to put food on the table, and we prefer it to be cheap.

If the stores are as clean as Fecke suggests, I would be glad to shop Dollar General Markets, if they ever come to my region, despite my noted perception against dollar store perishables.

To get the basics down is a great achievement and takes a lot of work. My hat’s off to those that can do it.

Still, this basics-only approach won’t bring produce to the forefront, where it should be. We have cheap fruits and vegetables, and still produce loses out to less-healthful food.

We need to add some adventure and zing to our marketing.

E-mail crobinson@thepacker.com

How do you think industry could get consumers excited about eating healthfully? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.