I had the chance on Nov. 13 to chat with Dan Sutton, director of produce procurement for Albertsons LLC, Boise, Idaho.

12:36 p.m. Tom Karst: Hello Dan

Dan Sutton: Hi

12:37 p.m. Tom: Thanks for making time today for a chat. I appreciate it.

12:38 p.m. Dan: Sure...I am on vacation this week...so it's a good break from the "stress" of being off

Chat - Dan Sutton

12:39 p.m. Tom: Oh, I'm jealous. I have a few days to take before the end of the year, but I'm in the office today. Speaking of work, I was curious how you first connected with the fresh produce industry? Who introduced you to the "wonderful world of fruits and vegetables"?

12:41 p.m. Dan: When I was in high school in western Kansas, I worked part time at a grocery store, and one of the responsibilities was to help the owner with produce

12:42 p.m. Tom: So that was an opening. Did you end up with that retailer full time, or is it something that you came back to after college?

12:44 p.m. Dan: I worked there for about three years, and then during college I worked at a couple of other retailers. After that I went to work for Nash Finch in North Dakota, and then was promoted into produce buying/merchandising.

12:45 p.m. Tom: Spending your career in produce, what do you most enjoy about what you do?

12:47 p.m. Dan: Produce is an interesting business. It is fast, mostly efficient, there is always something new and it provides a fantastic circle of friends.

12:49 p.m. Tom: We read a lot about the economy and how consumers are reacting. From a general perspective, is there anything fresh produce suppliers can do to respond to today's market? Is what you are looking for as a retailer changing, would you say?

12:54 p.m. Dan: I think that one of the most important things the current economy has taught us is that consumers still want a value. Certainly the definition of value might change depending upon the demographics, but consumers still want top quality product. So partnerships between growers and retailers are an important part of today's business environment. We need to work together to determine what works best in every market. Cheap price for less than top notch quality only appeals to a limited subset of consumers.

12:58 p.m. Tom: Dan, we have talked about the work you do with the Basket of Joy program in Denver. I think the program must mean so much to those people it reaches out to. Tell readers a little about the program and how you got involved with it...

1:05 p.m. Dan: The Basket of Joy started in Denver back in 1988. A morally bankrupt financial planner stole all of the money from two elderly sisters and had them sent to a home in Mexico with the instructions that they were not to be sent back to the states. When it was discovered, they moved back to a nursing home in Denver with absolutely no assets. Woody Paige wrote a column about it and asked readers to send him Christmas cards and he would take them to the sisters. I called him and offered two fruit baskets. The next day we began planning how we could make and deliver 500 baskets and that turned into 5,000 the first year. Now for the shameless plug...more info at www.squidoo.com/DenverBasketofJoy.

1:08 p.m. Tom: Where does all the fruit - and the volunteers come from? I know you manage a lot of people working with the fruit baskets, but do you also get a chance to deliver the baskets sometimes? If so, what was one of the memorable deliveries that you made with the program?

1:17 p.m. Dan: The fruit is purchased directly from growers that I have known for many years. The volunteers are all coordinated through the Denver chapter of Volunteers of America. It takes about 300 people to build the baskets and about the 800 to 1,000 volunteers deliver them. I have delivered a few. The target recipient is an elderly person who has no family and no one else at Christmas. I was shocked to find that one of our neighbors was on the list from the VOA. My daughters and I delivered the basket. We get stories every year from different volunteers about their experiences, from delivering to WWII veterans who want to tell their stories, to people living in trailers with no heat, to people living in mansions. But all of the recipients are alone at Christmas. Many times the volunteers are the only human contact these folks have during the holidays. I guarantee you, participating in the program gives you a different perspective on Christmas.

1:20 p.m. Tom: What a powerful reminder to give back to the community during the season. Would that we would all have an opportunity to do something like the Basket of Joy program in this season. Thanks for sharing about that and taking time for this chat. Perhaps we can have you back another time to visit about traceability? Again, thanks for your time and thanks for your work in Denver!

1:21 p.m. Dan: Sure. Have a great Christmas....Thanks.