Aisle Chatter

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Manufacturers of packaged goods, beware! According to a Wall Street Journal story, grocery store chains around the U.S. are building new stores that have more space for fresh foods and in return are downsizing the center aisles traditionally allotted for shelf-stable products. Add to that the increased competition from private label and boutique brands, and you have a forecasted decline in sales numbers. According to the global market research firm Nielsen, sales volumes for packaged goods dropped by 2.4 percent in the first quarter of 2017. With more and more consumer food preferences shifting to healthier and fresher options and paying closer attention to nutritional labels, and with falling food prices that make fresh items more accessible to the general consumer, a lot of mainstream packaged food products could be in danger. Even drugstore chain CVS plans to upgrade hundreds of its stores to offer healthier products. Although it may be a small drop in numbers now, it looks like it could become a steady decline. According to Nielsen analyst Jordan Rost, “It’s death by a thousand cuts.”

You don’t have to tell Ahold USA to get on the fresh bandwagon. The retailer hosted its annual Locally Grown produce vendor meeting late last month at is Carlisle, PA headquarters. The meeting, which gathered the area produce vendors for both the Carlisle and Landover divisions, did an overview of what the area’s grocery leader is currently doing to promote local produce, their successes and their missteps, and a road map on how they intend to improve the marketing and presentation of these items to their customer base. The emphasis was on strengthening their brand by offering customers “a world class ‘Buy Local’ program that is relevant in each specific geographic location” in which they operate.  Several objectives were talked about, all with the intent of making the Giant the retailer of choice for locally grown produce by successfully promoting and selling the attendees’ products.  Also discussed were three pillars needed to improve customer experience: help them to save money, save time and eat well. Brian Fleming, AUSA’s category director of vegetables, presented the core of the presentation with support provided by Kris Sechler, produce merchandiser, and Mark Minns, produce buyer. David Lessard, VP of produce merchandising, and John Ruane, senior vice president of perishables, were also there to show support during the presentation, which was full of great information but still moved succinctly. The importance of collaboration was highlighted throughout the meeting, with the retailer continually emphasizing their commitment to putting the spotlight on local producers.  Also presented was a Thunder III update and the different produce area formats for the stores based on their location and customer demographics. To close out the morning gathering, the retailer recognized the Local Growers of the Year for the two area divisions.  Lester Garber and Laban Garber of Country Acres were honored for their service to the Carlisle division while the corresponding award for Landover was presented to Curt Fifer of Fifer Orchards. It was a very successful meeting in my opinion with all attendees feeling not only encouraged by the support offered by Ahold but also secure in the strength of their partnerships with the retailer.

Bozzuto’s announced a record breaking donation of 56,000 pounds of food to the Connecticut Food Bank this month. The generous donation is a result of charitable contributions given at the leading food distributor’s annual Independence Retailer Conference that was held in March. “Thanks to the ongoing support and generosity of our valued customers and suppliers, we were able to implement some exciting changes this year which led to our largest Food Show donation in the company’s history,” stated Steve Heggelke, executive vice president of merchandising. “This momentous food donation translates to 47,340 meals for Connecticut residents in need.” The two-day conference, which this year switched to an invitation-only format, hosted 658 vendors.