I take every chance I get to wander new aisles.

Retail tour gives vision of produce Utopia

Pamela Riemenschneider
Aisle Wandering

I also try to convert family and friends into grocery-philes, but it doesn’t always work. My idea of taking someone sightseeing in my hometown of Austin, Texas, is to tour the Whole Foods corporate headquarters and H.E. Butt’s Central Market. Our new Sprouts Farmers Market and Newflower Farmers Market also rank high on the list, if there’s time.
Those probably wouldn’t make most people’s lists of tourist destinations.

So, seeing four stores in one morning on the retail tour at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim was right up my alley. I didn’t even mind the 45-minute circling around suburbia because the GPS took us to the wrong Von’s.

It’s a special treat to see a store that’s been prepped for a retail tour. Every row is in order, every aisle is perfect.

Everything is set so beautifully and perfectly aligned, the stems on the apples practically face the same direction. It’s like produce Utopia.

Somehow, I lucked out and sat in the Australia contingent. Everyone around me was from Down Under, so following along with them was an interesting experience.

I asked my seatmate, Luke Casserly of Moraitis Fresh Produce, what he looks for in a retail tour.

He said as a wholesaler of potatoes, onions and the like, he was looking for how potatoes were merchandised, prices and any new products. He also was looking at other products in the department.

Value-added produce particularly was interesting, he said, but unachievable for many Australian companies.

I wondered aloud why and he said it was a matter of labor. Australian workers are paid a much higher minimum wage that a produce company couldn’t turn much of a profit on a lot of the soup kits, stir fry kits and hand-cut fresh-cut melon packs that you see in U.S. stores.

That’s something I hadn’t really thought of. I’m pretty fond of my local retailer’s cored gold pineapple. They sell it for the same price as a whole pineapple — $3.99 — so it’s a no-brainer. If that same pineapple was $6 would I buy it? 

Probably not.

I shot lots of photos on the tour. Would you like to see the fruits of my labor? Check out the On the Road galleries on www.producemerchandising.com for retail tour photos and photos from all of our On The Road visits.

I could be wandering an aisle near you soon.

E-mail pamelar@producemerchandising.com. Follow Pamela on Twitter @pamelawr.

Were you a part of Fresh Summit 2009's retail tour? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.