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The Chilean fruit industry is working to improve industry sales through a program of wide benefit. The premise is to solve the problem that produce department profits are suffering because retailers have such a difficult time keeping trained, experienced help.

"We have a big enough stake" in produce department success “to put a thumb in the dike” to stem the flow of a “hemorrhage in the retail business,” said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director of North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, the Chilean fruit promotion group based in Sonoma, CA.

“The increased shrink” in national produce departments generally stems from “improperly, or ill-trained, personnel at retail,” he said. “Money hemorrhages if you don't have [produce personnel] pretty well bolstered.”

To cast the character to plug the proverbial dike, Mr. Tjerandsen called on his retired retail executive friend Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting Service. Mr. Spezzano, a former chairman of the Produce Marketing Association, agreed to present a video production on behalf of the Chilean association. This two-part production “helps store-level people improve the shelf life of the fruit” through better techniques in receiving, care and handling, Mr. Tjerandsen said. The objective is to “reduce shrink to a tolerable level.”

In the second video portion by Mr. Spezzano, who was fondly described by Mr. Tjerandsen as a “knowledgeable and wild, arm-waving character,” suggests to produce clerks how to merchandise and promote produce. “There may be tools” to merchandise “that clerks may need brought to their attention.”

Waterfall extenders for displays and “all kinds of things” are described by Mr. Spezzano, who “in his Boston accent is admonishing people” on how to improve their produce department operations. The total of about eight minutes of video contains “a lot of good information.”

This project, named simply the “Care & Handling Merchandising Video,” was finished in early November. Merchandisers representing the Chilean association are “showing the wonderful things [that] can be accomplished if produce department employees take the time and make the effort to learn.” The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association summarized Mr. Spezzano’s ideas to put on a produce backroom chart.

“Kroger asked us to put their logo on the chart,” which was done, said Mr. Tjerandsen. “When it’s printed, it looks like their piece.”

Mr. Tjerandsen said that his office can send the video to retailers, or the material can be downloaded from the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association web site: www.chileanfruit.com.

The video “fills a real niche,” he said. “Retailers have a great struggle to keep store-level people in place. Especially in produce, the turnover is vicious.” When produce provides 10 percent of store sales and 17 percent of profits, “If people do a good or bad job, it has a dramatic impact on the bottom line,” he concluded. “We help people realize what they could and should be doing.”