CHICAGO — A June 12 roundtable at the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual show, “Retail Insights from Visionary Produce Managers,” featured winners of the group’s annual Retail Produce Manager Awards discussing the ways they make their departments stand out from the competition.

Roman Teig, a manager at a Hy-Vee store in Omaha, Nebraska, said the experience of going through a produce department should be “like a show” for consumers, with sampling, cooks making food, dietitians offering advice and other extras. “You want consumers to have all five senses going.”

There are also questions Teig routinely asks himself when he looks at his department: Is the customer flow easy? Can you see the top 20 items from the front door? Is there a “wow” factor?

For consumer convenience, Teig recommends putting every ingredient for a given recipe on the same end cap.  

Recipe cards are a thing of the past, said Charles Tavacol, manager of a Giant Foods store in McLean, Virginia.  Instead, Giant offers, through its mobile app, its Savory magazine, which provides not only recipes but preparation tips and other information for today’s savvy fresh produce shoppers.

The biggest buzz word in the retail world of fresh produce, Tavacol said, remains “organic.” “There used to be just one choice per commodity. Now there’s value-added, baby varieties, big pack sizes. The variety of organic has grown so much.”

The growth in organic has been the biggest change in the produce industry in recent years, agreed Brittany Woodall, manager of a Fred Meyer store in Bellevue, Washington. Woodall said her store works hard to ensure there are no gaps in supplies of popular organic items, and added that the price gap between conventional and organic continues to shrink, with some items similarly priced.

When it comes to merchandising, Woodall recommends going big. “If I make a display big, with boxes to help it waterfall out, it sells better.”

Greg Miller, manager of a Raley’s store in Chico, California, said building a bond with consumers is still the most important thing, even in the digital age.

“People still want to come into the store, but you have to build rapport with them so they trust you,” he said.

In addition, one trick that has proved effective for Miller and Raley’s is offering free fruit to kids while their parents shop.

When asked for tips on what suppliers can do to improve the merchandising of produce, Miller suggested making the best-by dates on packaged salads and other packaged fruits and vegetables larger and easier to read. Tavacol added that more consistency is needed in best-by dates. One product may have one, he said, but the product right next to it may not.

Another tip for suppliers, Miller said: get each store’s produce team “on your side.” For example, if you have a new product, make sure you take the time to sample it for the produce department employees.