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Produce News Retailer of the Year Southeast

Offerings At Best Store In Town Are ‘As Fresh As Fresh Gets’

Food City fresh produce

Food City’s meat and seafood and produce and floral departments can be best described in two words: picky and convenient. The company prides itself on providing the freshest produce, highest quality meat and seafood and brightest floral arrangements in the market – all while cultivating partnerships with local farmers and growers to provide the best value for customers.

Food City, The Shelby Report of the Southeast’s Retailer of the Year, emphasizes freshness across all departments, according to Bucky Slagle, VP of produce/floral operations. In produce, the company has what it calls, “The Picky About Produce Promise.” Each store pledges to provide the freshest fruits and vegetables. If customers are not satisfied, Food City will replace the product. It’s a promise carried out by top-level executives and associates alike.

“We actually have signs right in front of our stores where each of our department employees sign, saying that ‘we’re committed to making sure that you’re buying 100 percent fresh product, we guarantee that product,’” Slagle said. 

Food City fresh produce

Every morning, produce managers cull the racks from end to end for product that is not deemed 100 percent fresh. Midday, the process is repeated during the “two o’clock tune-up,” Slagle said. Produce that is culled but still of high enough quality can be used in the foodservice department or is otherwise donated to local food banks.

The product’s freshness is also aided by the frequency with which deliveries are made. Produce arrives at stores every other day. 

Food City also partners with a number of local farms. Some growers work with just a few stores while others work with the internal distribution center at the grocer’s parent company, K-VA-T Food Stores Inc. For convenience, the company offers backhaul delivery to the distribution center. 

Information on producers can be found above the displays throughout the produce department. It all goes back to the company’s founder, Jack C. Smith, who pledged to “run the best store in town.” 

“You’ve got to have the freshest if you want to be the best store in town,” Slagle said. “It’s as fresh as fresh gets when the products may be picked this morning and then delivered directly to the stores. Even if we backhaul it, that product comes right back, most of the time, the day it’s picked. And it’s back out to the store within 48 hours. So, it’s truly fresh product.’

In larger footprints, customers can also find fresh herbs growing in the produce department. Customers are encouraged to cut their own. Mature herb plants such as basil, thyme or rosemary also are available for purchase to plant in customers’ own herb gardens. 

Local is not unique to the produce department. Food City also works with area vendors in its floral department. It has invested heavily to expand the offerings beyond traditional bouquets or balloons. Slagle explained that products such as hanging baskets, bedding plants, wreaths, ferns, funeral quilts, candy bouquets and other greenery have flourished. 

The fern program began about five years ago. “We were selling maybe one, two truckloads of ferns per year. Last year, we were close to 50 truckloads of ferns,” said Slagle, adding that it “really is the quality of the product that has helped it flourish.”

The department is staffed by trained floral designers seven days a week. At larger stores, the company is implementing engraving stations, which has been well received, according to Jack Wycoff, store manager of Food City No. 823 in Abingdon. His store was among the first to have one.

“We see it used a lot with the big holidays in the floral department like Mother’s Day or graduations,” Wycoff said. “You have a lot of keepsake things you can engrave so they use it for big moments, maybe a wedding gift.” 

Food City fresh produce

Customers can engrave items with help from an associate at the station. For example, photo frames, cake stands and other novelties are free to engrave with purchase.

For customers seeking a quick dinner, Food City offers Shortcuts in its produce department. Associates will clean, cut and package fresh fruit and vegetables in varying size containers for customers to incorporate into meals.

The veggie and fruit Shortcuts are available in party trays or in 16-ounce snack cups. Slagle described the cups as “ready-to-eat, ready-to-go.” Fruit Shortcuts also come in 32-ounce, 48-ounce and 64-ounce bowls. However, vegetables come in wider varieties. Eight- and 16-ounce cups are known as, “recipe ready.” 

“Chopped onions, chopped peppers, mix of peppers and onions, chopped celery, tomatoes, jalapenos and other things such as that are available, so folks can pick those up and they’re prepared, cut, ready-to-go right in a recipe,” Slagle explained.

As part of its Shortcuts program, Food City also offers baking and grill-ready vegetable pans with a variety of recipes, as well as toppers, roasters and soup starters. 

The program extends into the meat and seafood department with Food City’s Shortcuts Meal Solutions. The prepackaged items are ready to cook in steamer bags that can be microwaved or baked, according to Steve Holloway, VP of meat/seafood operations.

The grocer also offers what Holloway referred to as “campfire pans.” These heat-and-eat meals have a protein, vegetable and seasoning in one pan. The meal can be prepared in the oven or microwave or on a grill.

Holloway continued by saying Food City’s full-service meat department takes time to prepare other ready-to-cook items, including appetizers, seafood or marinated meats. Customers can find them prepackaged throughout the meat department or behind the butcher case. 

Associates go through a rigorous certification process to help with any concerns. 

Food City fresh produce

“Customers have a lot of questions. They’re not sure how to cook. They’re looking for dinner ideas. They’re in a hurry. We can suggest these quick things, easy things,” Holloway said.

“We’ve got our Meals in Minutes already made up, or we can help them with what to make. Anything we can do to make it easier when they come in. We are trying to have the value there in a quick, convenient form like in grab-and-go. And a lot of it is healthier than going to the frozen food aisle.”

For value-centric customers, Food City offers its Pick 5 program. Each week, customers can select five special, marked items in produce for a discounted price of $7.99. In the meat department, they can choose five items for $19.99. Customers do require a ValuCard, Food City’s rewards program, membership to receive the discount. 

For customers looking for the highest quality meats, Food City has been a certified Angus beef brand partner for nearly 24 years. “Obviously, we’ve hung our hat on that,” Holloway said. “The quality speaks for itself.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many customers experienced the quality of Angus beef for the first time and have stuck with it, according to Holloway.

Food City’s fresh ground beef program is unique. Unlike most grocers, Food City places its ground beef on an 18-hour shelf life. Associates note the time instead of the date when preparing ground beef. If the product is not sold within the time frame, it will be packaged and placed on the shelf for sale outside of the case. In some instances, ground beef is taken to the foodservice department to be used in hot food offerings like spaghetti or hamburger steak, according to Kevin Stafford, VP of marketing.

The meat department abides by a rigorous sanitation regimen in place since 1986, Holloway said. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., the department will close for about 20 to 30 minutes to break down, clean and sanitize the display case and meat processing equipment. Customers are notified of the temporary closure via an intercom announcement. The process is repeated at the end of the night. 

For seafood, Food City receives deliveries every other day in every store to maintain freshness. The retailer makes signature seafood items, including salads, crab cakes, salmon burgers and dips. Other made-in-house items include twice-baked potatoes, bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeño peppers, bacon-wrapped asparagus and buffalo chicken wings. 

The meat department also has handled the fresh-made sushi program since 2016. Holloway said the retailer began its own made-from-scratch sushi to expand its product offering and create further variety. The company now has 75 sushi bars and counting across its market area. 

As the company continues to grow, sushi is becoming a main offering in all new or remodeled stores.

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About the author

Jack R. Jordan

Content Creator

Jordan joined The Shelby Report in May 2022 after over a year in the newspaper industry. A native of Marietta, Georgia, he studied writing and communications at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He spends too much time in the grocery store trying to find recipe ingredients, so he looks forward to covering the industry.

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