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Throughout this summer, Safeway stores coast to coast and in Canada will sport a new look in the produce department with a locally grown section.

Almost all the retail giant's more than 1,700 stores will feature in-store signage and merchandising touting locally grown product. For this program, the company divided its stores into regions, and each will carry and advertise products that are from the same geographic region.

In an e-mail interview with The Produce News, Geoff White, group vice president of produce, explained that geography plays an important role in this program.

"In California, where Safeway is headquartered, local produce comes from within the state, with an emphasis on produce from Northern California for our NorCal stores, and an emphasis on produce from Southern California for our Vons and Pavilions stores in the south. For our East Coast stores, we focus on produce from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. New Jersey and Delaware are also part of our East Coast region. Therefore, 'locally grown' on the East Coast is produce that comes from these neighboring states."

The only region not participating in the program encompasses the firm's Las Vegas stores.

To supply these special sections, Safeway will use some new suppliers, but it is also tapping some grower-shippers that have been doing business with the chain for many years. Mr. White illustrated his point with several examples:

Carpinito Bros. in Kent, WA, will be one of the suppliers for Safeway's Northwest stores. "This family-owned farm has been in business for 40 years, and for 35 years has supplied Safeway stores with Romaine lettuce and green cabbage," he said.

In the Chicago area, Dominick's stores, which are owned by Safeway, will begin featuring locally grown produce from Hinkle Produce in Cessna Park, IL. That family-owned sweet corn grower has been in business for 40 years and has supplied Dominick's for the past 30 years.

In California, Safeway will have plenty of operators to feature, including Ratto Bros. in Modesto, CA. Mr. White said that the farm "has been in business for 104 years, 45 of which it has supplied our Northern California Safeway stores with leaf lettuce, greens and cilantro."

Other local growers that will be featured include G&S Farms in Brentwood, CA, a grower of sweet corn and green beans, and Fitzgerald Orchards in Tyro, VA, which has supplied East Coast Safeway stores with apples for nearly 60 years.

A Safeway press release on the program said that the retailer will give purchasing preference to these and other key local growers to meet customer demand.

For the merchandising of the locally grown product, Safeway has created marketing and packaging materials that its shippers will use. Mr. White said that in-store displays will feature special locally grown signage that looks like a sign that would be displayed at a roadside produce stand. Also, each store has a sign that is a map showing local growers.

In the press release touting the new program, Safeway said that the effort has been designed to draw customer attention to the company's already wide selection of locally grown produce, as well as the quality, freshness and sustainability benefits of the products.

"Nearly a third of Safeway's produce comes from local sources," said Mr. White. "In California, that number is even greater -- roughly 45 percent. This new initiative will direct our customers to our extensive selection of premium-quality, locally grown produce at competitive prices."

In its press release, Safeway claims that this new "commitment to local produce means that shoppers can find more local produce per item than at a typical farmer's market."

The press release added that Safeway will require its local vendors to meet the company's strict safety and quality standards for planting, growing, harvesting, handling and transporting.