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UTICA, NY -- Chanatry's Market is a family-owned supermarket that has been serving this upstate New York community since William Howard Taft was in the White House. Its practice from the start was to offer high-quality items at competitive prices in a friendly atmosphere. That practice endures to the present time, only in a larger setting.

Fresh produce and meats have always been key departments at Chanatry's, located here between Syracuse and the state capital of Albany. In fact, the store has the largest service area for meats (55 feet) in the region, with staff available at all times to offer customers personal service, according to company owner Bill Chanatry.

But the produce department is what greets shoppers as they enter the store. Fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world were available in mid- June, as always, beautifully displayed in the department that features clean and wide aisles to help make shopping easy and enjoyable. And as Mr. Chanatry was proud to declare, "Produce is absolutely the most important category in the store."

Produce from New York state was starting to come in when The Produce News visited the retailer on a sunny day in mid-June. For example, local Romaine as well as tomatoes from New York greenhouses were set up on what the retailer calls its "hot spot" - an island display that draws shoppers into the rest of the produce department.

The hot spot also featured five-pound bags of salt potatoes from Hinerwadel's Inc. in North Syracuse, NY. The company generally produces about 800,000 to 1 million five-pound bags each year, according to Mark Strutz, the company's production manager.

The company uses white potatoes from a variety of areas, and will utilize New York potatoes in season. The salt potatoes are very popular with retailers in the Northeast, including, of course, Chanatry's.

The retailer enjoys offering a wide variety of local produce, and uses "Pride of New York" signage to help shoppers identify it.

"I think as an independent, we can offer our customers local New York state product at a very competitive price," Vinnie Ciccone, produce manager at Chanatry's, told The Produce News June 15. "I like to advertise right through the season at very aggressive pricing."

Mr. Ciccone is a 30-year veteran of the retail industry, mostly in produce. He has been produce manager at Chanatry's for the last five years. Mr. Ciccone noted that the hot spot would feature many local items throughout the season, such as onions as well as one of the Empire State's key items: apples. And with summer approaching at the time of this visit, he stated, "I'll advertise sweet corn as long as the season goes."

Bozzuto's Inc., a wholesale grocer headquartered in Cheshire, CT, has been the primary supplier to Chanatry's for about eight years, according to Ken Brickel, perishable sales manager at Bozzuto's. Mr. Brickel and Dan McAllister, produce merchandiser at Bozzuto's, both provide the retailer with sales and merchandising assistance on a regular basis.

Asked what sets Chanatry's apart from the competition, Mr. Brickel replied, "They are able to adapt to market conditions. They can take large quantities with a great price point. They have a nice open-air atmosphere. Customers find value and friendly service."

For a long time, Chanatry's has also worked with local growers in season to offer its customers a wide variety of high-quality fruits and vegetables - a practice more important than ever, perhaps, as the locally grown trend has taken off with consumers in New York and around the country.

In fact, on the same day that The Produce News was at Chanatry's, New York Commissioner of Agriculture Patrick Hooker stopped by to help kick off the state's 2010 season and its Pride of New York campaign.

"So far the season looks great," said Commissioner Hooker. "We've had an early start to the season." He added, "I don't doubt that there's a little damage somewhere" from early storms in parts of the state, but "we're off to a very nice start."

Bill Chanatry's ancestors founded the first store =- a small grocery outlet -= in 1912. They opened their first real supermarket about five miles from the current location in 1938. In 1965, there were two stores -- one on French Road very close to the current location and another about five miles away. (That one closed in the early 1980s.)

In 1987-88, the store on French Road was torn down, and a brand new, 30,000-square foot supermarket was built on the current site. This store was expanded in 1998 and now boasts about 50,000 square feet.

The produce department represents about 5,000 to 5,500 square feet, and produce generally accounts for about 15 percent of total store sales during the summer months -- a bit less the rest of the year, according to Mr. Chanatry.

"We know our customers, we know our products," Mr. Chanatry said from his office overlooking the action in the store - and which he shares with his son, Mark, who is the company's president. "We have to maintain our quality -- with no compromises."

Like the other executives at the supermarket, Mr. Chanatry was eagerly looking forward to the 2010 New York produce season, when the hot spot and the produce department in general would be offering inviting displays of sought-after items like onions, sweet corn and apples.

He noted that the Utica area was "multi-ethnic," with large populations of Italians, Poles and even Bosnians. "They are all big produce eaters," he stated. "And they know their produce." And as these and other groups become more knowledgeable, "they all look for New York produce."

Asked about the importance of organic produce at his supermarket, Mr. Chanatry said that "a very small group, mostly the younger ones," does look for organic produce. But "it doesn't make or break our produce department."

Mr. Chanatry noted that the company has worked with upstate New York growers during the local season for many years, but that he has enjoyed the excellent working relationship with Bozzuto's and its people as well.

"We're a big customer of Bozzuto's," he said. "They help with the merchandising. They have a 'Kenny' [Brickel] for every department. Bozzuto's has been an exemplary provider. There isn't anything they wouldn't do for you."

(For more on New York state produce, see the June 28, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)