Participants in the recent Southeast Produce Council fall conference received an eye-opening view of what retail buyers experience when looking over grower-shippers’ food safety practices.

As usual, the group’s meetings are also attracting some big names in the produce retail and foodservice world.

Doug Ohlemeier
Eastern Editor

Teri Miller, produce category manager for Food Lion LLC, Salisbury, N.C., discussed her experiences in spearheading Food Lion’s recall and traceback procedures.

Because Food Lion is a division of the Brussels-based Delhaize Group, Miller also leads food safety efforts for Delhaize’s other banners, including Hannaford Bros. Co., Scarborough, Maine, Harvey Co. Inc., Nashville, Ga., and Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla.

She said the chains have invested seven figures into its capital funds budget not including labor to implement the produce traceability initiative. The project team is dedicated to making needed procedural and technical changes to achieve whole chain traceability in Delhaize’s stores.

During an SEPC session on traceability, Miller said suppliers implementing procedures and practices necessary to ensure shipment of safe produce should know they’re doing what they can to protect their product.

Miller said she didn’t think any shipper who is prudent enough to take those proactive steps would relax what they have been doing.

Some growing and packing operations she recently visited, however, haven’t been as diligent.

“I have met with certain growers,” Miller said. “None of them are here now, though. I don’t care if you’re certified. The conditions I saw that day were crap. There were dogs that day in the packing facility. You know, scratching. There were all kinds of things going on. That’s all I’m going to say.”

I’d venture industry pressure is making the number of those types of operations decline rapidly.

While the caliber of the speakers who appear at Southeast Produce Council educational sessions is always impressive, the types of attendees is also high on the Richter scale.

Regardless of their geographic territories, produce industry groups share similar objectives for helping improve the industry, said attendee Jack Salamon, senior category manager for Shaw's Supermarkets Inc., East Bridgewater, Mass., and president of the New England Produce Council, Burlington, Mass.

“I was here representing the New England council but also attended as a retailer,” he said. “I’m looking for resources and sources of products that I may not be familiar with. I find these regional conferences easier to do business. They offer a more comfortable setting than some of the bigger shows where visiting 1,200 booths can be a little overwhelming.”

This was the first council fall conference attended by David Baron, director of intercompany sales for FreshPoint Inc.’s value-added north Florida operation in Jacksonville, Fla.

He said the meeting provides great networking opportunities.

Baron said he met many people and developed some strong business contacts to help the subsidiary of Houston-based Sysco Corp. expand and improve how it looks for vendors and conducts its business.

“This (council) is a growing organization,” he said. “It’s a great council. The people they have involved on the board and all the different committees, there is some great talent there. That is making it one of the best organizations around.”

Three Sysco officials traveled to the Sept. 24-26 meeting in Savannah, Ga.

As it did last spring, Sysco plans to increase its corporate support by sending 16 of its officials to the council’s other show, Southern Exposure 2011 retail and foodservice conference and expo, March 3-5 in Orlando, Fla.

Additionally, Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. is planning to bring vendors and people from its headquarters to a national meeting it is planning in conjunction with the show.

Supervalu Inc., Eden Prairie, Minn., also is setting up a major meeting of its East Coast and West Coast personnel at the spring show.