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FPFC nearing completion on first retail research project

by Tim Linden | July 11, 2011

Sometime within the next month or so, the Fresh Produce & Floral Council will release its first sales data report analyzing fresh produce sales at retail in the California marketplace.

“As far as we know, we are the only regional produce industry trade association offering this service,” said Carissa Mace, president of the council, which is based in La Mirada, CA.

The FPFC contracted with Fusion Marketing, a Southern California-based full-service marketing and advertising agency, to do the research and write the report. The first of four quarterly reports will soon be available to the FPFC membership.

“I have seen the first draft and it is both very detailed as well as simple to understand,” said Ms. Mace. “It has been designed to give both retailers and suppliers that operate in the California market the opportunity to look at sales data and get a snapshot of how the many produce categories perform in this area.”

Ms. Mace added, “We expect this to be especially useful for the small, independent retailers that do not have the resources to conduct this research for themselves. They can now look at their own sales data and see how it stacks up against other California retailers.”

However, she said that larger retailers that are members of FPFC have indicated that they will also be able to compare their chain-wide figures to the industry at large for valuable comparisons. And suppliers will be able to look at their own fresh commodities and see where there are sales opportunities within the state.

“The sales data looks at bulk vs. fixed-weight packaging and also divides the state into several regions,” Ms. Mace said. “The final report should be a couple of dozen pages long, but it has been written in a way that a quick look puts a lot of valuable information at your fingertips.”

First and foremost, the FPFC is a networking organization. In a typical year, the council holds well over a dozen events throughout the state, including eight luncheons, two expos, two golf tournaments, a dinner dance, a bowling tournament and a day at a horse racing track. Joining that stable of activities this year is a bocce ball get together that will take place Sept. 9 in Northern California.

“We are an event-driven organization, with providing networking opportunities being our most important function,” said Ms. Mace. “We did a needs assessment survey of the membership a couple of years ago and it was clear that they did not want us to change the direction of the council or decrease the number of those networking opportunities. But they also told us that the FPFC could do a better job of addressing the daily business needs of our members.”

The FPFC board formed a committee and explored ways to add more value to the membership.   Discussions among the board members and with many different members revealed that localized research was a void that needed to be filled. While there are some national data available and some commodity groups offer regional sales data for their particular product, there was a lack of specific data on fresh produce sales within the California marketplace.

“We expect this first report to give FPFC members mountains of information about our industry,” Ms. Mace said. “That data will become even more important as the second, third and fourth reports are prepared because trends will start to develop. We will be able to look at how sales of specific commodities flow throughout the year, and we should be able to identify sales trends very quickly.”

While some of the report’s information will be released for general consumption, the full report will only be available to FPFC members.

“This is a value-added service for our members and for only our members,” Ms. Mace said. “Companies out there interested in this information are more than welcome to join the Fresh Produce & Floral Council.”

The council recently contracted with industry veteran Jin Ju Wilder of Status Gro, a consultancy firm, to help with business development and grow the council’s membership. Ms. Wilder and her colleague, Emily Fragoso, are currently interviewing some local non-member independent retailers with one or two stores to discover why they are not members of the FPFC, and what services they are looking for as a reason to join the council.

California is a hot bed of independent retailers, many of which cater to the state’s diverse ethnic populations. While the FPFC has attracted many of these retailers to its membership rolls, there are many others that have not joined.

“We want to know why and what it will take to get them to join,” Ms. Mace said candidly.

Another new development at the FPFC is the establishment of an Outreach Task Force, headed by longtime member and former council chairperson Marty Craner of B&C Fresh Sales Co. in Orange, CA.

“This task force has created a systematic approach to how we give back to the industry,” said Ms. Mace. “The FPFC is often asked to donate to one cause or another, and in the past we have done so on a case-by-case basis as the requests come in. Now we have developed specific criteria and all requests must go through the task force before being presented to the board.”

The full FPFC board of directors makes the final call, but the task force has a budget and can properly weigh one request against another.

As a result of that work, this year the FPFC continued to support both the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the Produce Marketing Association’s Foundation for Industry Talent program. It also made a donation to the Orange County Food Bank’s Farm2Kids effort, a school-based program that educates children about healthy eating and provides fresh produce to help needy children and their families eat better at home.