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Making Lasting Gains In Fresh

Jonna Parker from Circa talks about fresh at The NGA Show
Circana’s Jonna Parker leads “Getting Fresh With Your Customer to Drive More In-Store Traffic” at the 2024 NGA Show.

The fresh perimeter is responsible for most of the sales and growth in the grocery channel. But it’s not enough for independent grocers just to be fresh – you have to do fresh right and in a way that sets you apart from your national and big-box competitors.

And doing fresh right starts with that swath of color and fragrance that hits shoppers the moment they enter most supermarkets.

“Produce sets the tone for the overall shopping experience,” Dave Holloway, director of produce and floral at Busch’s Fresh Food Market in southeastern Michigan, noted during a general session panel discussion at the recent 2024 NGA Show in Las Vegas.

But success in fresh is not a given, especially in a highlight competitive marketplace.

Nearly half of all shoppers choose a channel other than grocery as their primary produce outlet, including 35% of consumers under age 30, according to Jonna Parker, principal of the Fresh Center of Excellence at market tracker Circana and moderator of the discussion, “Getting Fresh With Your Customer to Drive More In-Store Traffic.”

To be sure, younger generations have grown up knowing Walmart and other mass retailers as grocers, Parker noted, and the supercenter channel has been making gains in in the fresh space.

How do independents make lasting gains in fresh?

Independent grocers are “going to win by differentiation,” asserted Dorn Wenninger, senior vice president of produce at UNFI. “We’re not going to outprice the discounter,” he acknowledged, but by “using the right tools,” such as package size and adjusting contents up or down per demand, “we can give value without trading down on price point.”

In other words, Wenninger added, “Just because we can’t outprice the discounter doesn’t mean we should abandon price.”

Holloway pointed to in-store fresh-cut fruit as a way to boost your store’s freshness factor. Building on that, Citrus America President Brian Framson recommended in-store juicing as a way of adding value by using the latest juicing technology that enhances taste, hygiene and efficiency.

Wenninger pointed to specialty format subcategories that are performing well; for example, he noted that while sales of packaged salads are down, indoor-farmed greens are up 50%.

To that end, Matt Williams, chief sales officer for vertical farming company Bowery, suggested creating a destination within your store for “a differentiated product that is high quality and pesticide free.”

Meanwhile, Holloway suggested partnering with local farms to help farmers tell their story and bringing store teams on farm visits so your associates can convey that provenance to consumers.

“Retailers have a chance every day to be remarkable,” Framson said, referring to an earlier presentation by Dr. Randy Ross on how to wow customers, which can be done by driving differentiation within the fresh perimeter. “You’re here to defend and gain market share.”

Wenninger acknowledged that national chains are more adept at leveraging customer data, though independents know their customers better. “If we can use data better,” he asserted, “we win.”

It’s important for grocers to continually up their game when it comes to fresh, and it’s why fresh is the target of NGA’s newest event designed to help you grow your business.

The NGA Store Operations Summit: Focus on Fresh will take place June 17-19, 2024, at the Marriott Warehouse Arts District in New Orleans.

Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from industry-leading guest speakers, explore cutting-edge solutions and innovations in fresh, and see the best of New Orleans independent grocers through store tours.

Find more information about the Store Operations Summit at https://www.nationalgrocers.org/store-operations-summit/.

And save the date for the 2025 NGA Show: Feb. 23-25, 2025, at Caesars Forum in Las Vegas.

Read more association news from The Shelby Report.

About the author

Jim Dudlicek

Director, Communications and External Affairs at NGA

Jim Dudlicek is Managing Editor and Content Strategist at NGA. The National Grocers Association is the trade association representing the U.S. independent community supermarket industry. NGA members include retail and wholesale grocers located in every congressional district across the country, as well as state grocers’ associations, manufacturers and service suppliers.

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