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“Being in the limelight” is a term that dates back to the early 1800s when an intense white light was created by heating a piece of lime in a flame.

A London theater was the first to use the bright limelight on stage to illuminate the performers. Thus, celebrity entertainers became the center of attention by being “in the limelight.” The use of limelight became obsolete when Thomas Edison invented a practical electric lighting system. However, the term “limelight” is still frequently used today.

The United Fresh Produce Association is a leading produce trade association that is committed to driving the growth and success of produce companies and their partners.

One of the featured events of the United convention and trade show is the Produce Manager Awards program, which recognizes and honors 25 produce managers selected from hundreds of nominations submitted by retailers and produce suppliers throughout the industry. These 25 produce managers will have the pleasure of stepping into the limelight as celebrities of the produce industry.

In the past, retail produce managers were not necessarily a part of any major industry event. Usually, awards and honors were presented to upper-management individuals and decision-makers. Little did growers and suppliers realize that produce managers were the focal point that determined the reputation of the entire industry. Their position on the sales floor, in direct contact with consumer, represents the product quality and freshness.

Does the industry have a better appreciation today as to the importance of produce managers? Are they now seen as significant players on the overall team?

Tom Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, DC, said, “Since launching this program with Ready Pac seven years ago, I believe we’ve helped increase the appreciation for produce managers as the ‘face’ of our industry to shoppers. Instead of focusing solely on procurement, this program shows everyone in the produce chain how effective selling at the consumer level can make a huge difference for produce suppliers and retailers alike. By highlighting sampling programs, creative merchandising, community involvement and stellar customer service, the program has helped the industry recognize the powerful role that produce managers play in our overall success.”

Front line know-how

Everyone associated with the produce industry plays a vital role. Every segment is like a giant gear rotating together with all other gears making the big green machine operate efficiently. Every gear or person is important to the success of the industry.

Fruits and vegetables make their last stop in supermarkets prior to reaching consumers’ tables. All levels in the growing, shipping and distributing areas do an outstanding job in delivering the goods. Yet the most important activity is directly in the store, where it must be prepared, displayed and sold. That’s where the produce manager makes a difference. He or she applies unique skills of presenting produce to consumers with appeal in order to generate high-volume sales results.

As the produce industry evolved considerably over the past 30 years, shopping trends at the store level grew more important. Consumer preferences moved towards more fresh fruits and vegetables for health and wellness to stay fit.

Therefore, produce managers became the best salespeople for the industry. After all, produce managers have direct access to shoppers right where the action takes place — on the sales floor.

Operating a produce department requires a number of highly qualified management practices that convey an image for a company as well as the entire industry. A produce manager’s position requires that he or she perform a variety of functions and have oversight of many responsibilities.

The next time you are in a produce department, check it out and ask yourself, “How are so many items with such limited shelf life kept so fresh and looking so good?” Then ask to see the produce manager, shake his or her hand and offer your thanks.

Even though there are a limited number of awards being presented, United Fresh and the entire industry acknowledges and applauds every single produce manager out there in the retail trenches for all their hard work in helping to drive sales.

Since the launching of this well-deserved awards program by United Fresh, produce managers are now better recognized for their industry value more than ever before. All produce managers can now step into the limelight.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at ron@power-produce.com, or check his web site at www.power-produce.com.)