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Tom Stenzel and Kevin Coupe will be the featured speakers at the New England Produce Council's 17th annual Produce, Floral & Foodservice Expo, scheduled to take place Sept. 21-23 at the Ocean Edge Resort & Gold Club on Cape Cod, MA.stenzTom Stenzel

Stenzel, president and chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, will deliver the keynote address at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21. The full details of his presentation will be announced in a few weeks, but one of his topics will be ethnic marketing, NEPC Executive Director Laura Sullivan told The Produce News April 19.KevinCoupeKevin Coupe

Coupe, a food industry expert, journalist and author who spoke at last year's NEPC expo, will facilitate a consumer and industry expert panel right after Stenzel's remarks.

A VIP reception will take place Wednesday evening, leading into what has quickly become a signature highlight at the NEPC expo: a Cape Cod style clambake.

The big event Thursday is the expo, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. "I anticipate about 130 booths at this year's expo," which is about the maximum that the facility can accommodate, said Sullivan. The expo will be followed by the Sunset Sail Cruise, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

On Friday, attendees may take advantage of a number of activities on the cape, such as golf, fishing, whale watching, spa treatments and shopping.

For additional information, contact Laura Sullivan at 781/273-0444.

Kroger’s Atlanta division announced that Bill Green, current director of regional operations for the Atlanta division, has been promoted to vice president of operations for the Columbus division, effective April 24.

“Bill brings leadership, people skills, a great knowledge of the business and an engaging community spirit to his new role,” Bruce Lucia, president of Kroger’s Atlanta division, said in a press release.Bill-Green---Headshot-FinalBill Green “Bill has contributed greatly to the success of our division, and his broad range of experience across different departments makes him an ideal candidate for this leadership role.”    

Green joined Kroger in 2000 as an attorney in the law department at the general office in Cincinnati before relocating to Atlanta to complete the management trainee program in 2003. Green has served in several management positions, and was promoted to his current role of director of regional operations in July 2015.

“I am thrilled to be promoted to vice president of operations,” Green said in the release. “My enthusiasm for our customers and associates will be carried over into the Columbus division, and I cannot wait to begin working with an incredible team.”

Green earned his bachelor’s degree in business from Howard University and his Juris Doctorate Degree from the University of Kentucky. His passion for the community is exemplified by his involvement and support of many organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America and the Junior Achievement Association.

KENOSHA, WI — On July 26, the Heartland Children’s Foundation will be sponsoring the Heartland Produce 2016 Charitable Golf Outing at the ThunderHawk Golf Club in Beach Park, IL.  

This will be the third year for the fundraiser, which netted $20,000 last year. Customers, suppliers and employees of Heartland are invited to participate.Bill-Ryan-DietzBill and Ryan Dietz of Heartland Produce Co.

For details on the golf tournament, contact Ryan Dietz at

William (Bill) Dietz Jr., president of Heartland Produce Co., based here, said the non-profit Heartland Children’s Foundation was launched three years ago. The four beneficiaries from last year’s event were CASA Lake County, Women & Children’s Horizons, The Shalom Center and Oasis for Orphans.  

This spring Bill Dietz will be traveling to Jordan on a UNICEF field visit. He is a board member of the Midwest Region, U.S. Fund for UNICEF. His board took on a three-year project to raise $3 million for the Eliminate Project, a partnership between UNICEF and Kiwanis International to eliminate maternal neonatal tetanus from the 23 countries where it is still present. Dietz said the vaccine for the disease costs $1.80. The challenge is to get the vaccine to those who need it.

Crane & Crane, a grower-packer in Brewster, WA, announced that beginning in the fall of 2016 it will market its traditional apple and pear varieties through Chelan Fresh. Crane & Crane also produces ENZA club varieties that will continue to be marketed through channels exclusive to those varieties.

The Crane family has been growing fruit in north central Washington for nearly 100 years.  Company President Rachel Crane Sullivan, a fifth-generation leader in the family business, said, “We have chosen to join forces in marketing our fruit with our longtime neighbors in the northern district of Washington state through Chelan Fresh. Our high-elevation location allows Crane & Crane to produce firm, high-quality fruit that fits well in the Chelan Fresh program.”

“Since 2003 growers in the northern district of Washington state, including Gebbers Farms, Chelan Fruit Cooperative, and Golddigger, have worked together as Chelan Fresh Marketing to bring volumes of top-quality fruit to market," Tom Riggan, chief executive officer of Chelan Fresh, said in a press release. "We have been close friends with Crane & Crane for many years, and we know the outstanding quality of their fruit and their people. Together we can deliver additional volume to our customers who demand excellence."

Walk into your local conveniences store and look for yogurt. If the store is selling that product, it almost certainly has the capacity, traffic, demographics and trained personnel to sell fresh produce.

And if industry experts are right, convenience stores soon will be another outlet for fresh produce sales, which are almost certainly additional sales as opposed to cannibalizing from some other sales venue.

The convenience store buyer who walks off with a fresh-cut salad would have purchased something else that day from that same store if the produce was not there as an option. Considering there are 100,000 convenience stores in the United States, the potential for added fresh produce sales is incredible.

Since a couple of trade associations launched an initiative to increase the sale of fresh produce at convenience stores, there have been some successes. But the past year has been more about laying the foundation, and exploring the opportunities and challenges.

It was a concept of shared benefit that brought the United Fresh Produce Association and the National Association of Convenience Stores together to look at convenience stores as potential fresh destinations for the shoppers that they serve.

United Fresh, of course, sees the opportunity to increase sales of produce by giving convenience store shoppers alternatives to the items that typically catch their attention when they frequent these locations, such as donuts, candy, beer and soda.

NACS sees the trends toward healthy eating and believes its members are better served by adding options that millennials and nutrition-conscious consumers seek.

Sharon Kuncl, vice president of merchandising-foodservice for Eby-Brown, which is a broad line distributor based in Naperville, IL, said the initiative has resulted in some action and new stores carrying fresh produce.

“It’s been kind of an exciting year as far as produce is concerned,” she said. “NACS is highlighting fresh produce and encouraging retailers to take a look at it.”

Kuncl readily acknowledged that it is not a fit for every convenience store but many can take advantage and increase their sales over time.

“It is very challenging for stores,” she said. “They have to be willing to suffer losses initially. We sell in six-pack trays — if they carry a fresh-cut salad and fruit and a couple of other items, they might have 30 items they have to sell in the next few days. Shelf life is the big concern.”

She said when introducing the product a retailer needs to build a large enough display for the customer to see it and become accustomed to it, but she added that shoppers might not initially purchase so there will be losses.

Kelly Jacob, vice president of retail and emerging channels for Pro*Act, who works at the firm’s Houston office, noted that “it is all about change and risk.”

She said consumers have changed their eating habits and are buying more nutritious items. The consumer, she said, can make those changes with no personal risk. But for a convenience store operator there is a huge economic risk involved if it starts offering these types of items more quickly than the consumer adopts them.

“And for the most part, these business owners are risk- and change-averse,” she said.

Consequently, Jacob said the shift toward the convenience store being a “fresh destination” is more evident when talking about the big convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven, Wawa and Sheetz. She said each of those store groups is doing an excellent job of incorporating produce into their product mix and have been doing so for quite some time.

7-Eleven is the largest U.S. convenience store chain with more than 8,000 locations. The other two are also in the top 20 with more than 500 locations each.

Jacob said Wawa, an East Coast chain, has done an excellent job with its fresh department. “They have 20 different coffees and many different produce items. They are capturing the shopper on the way to work in the morning and on the way home at night.”

Jeff Oberman, vice president of trade relations at United Fresh, said the opportunity for growth appears to be with the convenience store groups that have 20 to 80 locations. Larger groups, he said, are typically already involved with fresh.

So the immediate goal of United Fresh and NACS was to create deliverables for those smaller groups. Initially, a detailed presentation was created and distributed. But it was too long, so a two-page handout called Are you Fit for Fresh? was developed.

This handout takes the convenience store operator through a list of considerations to determine if a fresh produce program could be successful at one or more of their stores.

Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry Initiatives at NACS, said a store operator should consider such things as customer base, existing product line, location and available equipment when determining its fitness for fresh.

For example, millennials and women tend to seek out fresh product to a greater extent than other demographics. Existing product and the equipment available on site — specifically, a refrigerated case — are very important factors in determining the potential for success.

Strong sales of yogurt, health bars and nuts also are good indicators that a store’s customers would support a fresh produce program.

Jacob of Pro*Act said location is very important. If a convenience store is in the same shopping center as a supermarket, the chances of success are far less than a store located near a hospital or a university with no supermarket nearby. She added that convenience stores in food deserts could also do quite well and greatly increase fresh sales.

Kuncl said the most important attribute that a convenience store must have before embarking on a fresh food program is cleanliness. “It has to be a place you would consider buying food from,” she said, noting that many convenience stores just don’t pass that test.

She agreed that robust yogurt sales are a good indicator that a fresh produce program will work. It means the location has the clientele, the equipment and the know-how to handle a perishable product.

Jacob said convenience store operators are often looking at product with a shelf life of 10 to 15 months, so a fresh product that will only last a week can be a scary proposition.

Kuncl said Eby-Brown does share the risk when launching a fresh program for a convenience store operator by guaranteeing shelf life. She would welcome some risk participation from produce suppliers trying to break into that market.

Jacob said it is very difficult for a supplier to assume the risk when it has no control of the handling of the item.

Jacob did say that Pro*Act is willing to handle very small orders with no minimums to allow a retailer to start out slowly. But like the others, she agreed that losses would almost certainly be the initial result.

“You have to stock the right products and then get out there and advertise so your customers know you have it,” she said.

But the rewards appear to be worth it.

Lenard of NACS said the products that convenience store opertors traditionally sell — including the top seller, gasoline — have small margins. These store owners need to add products to survive and also to differentiate themselves from other retailers.

He noted that major retail chains such as Home Depot offer a refrigerated beverage case and other munchies at the checkout stand. These stalwarts of the convenience store genre are not that special anymore. To survive, a changing product line is warranted.

Lenard said selling more produce is good for the reputation of convenience store operators, who, as a group, want to be noted for having more healthy options.

“We are continuing to add more nutritious food,” he said. “We are three years into our nutrition initiative. It’s going to be a 10-year overnight success [in that] all of a sudden it’s going to catch on. Fresh-cut is a great opportunity. It adds to our healthy portfolio.”

Both NACS and United Fresh continue to work on deliverables for the industry they serve on this program. NACS produces a podcast series for its members, which in May will feature United Fresh President Tom Stenzel talking about the fresh opportunities for convenience store operators. And United Fresh is devoting a panel discussion to the subject at its convention, just as NACS did late last year.

The suppliers also have a major role to play.

“We are educating our sales staff because it is also new to the sales team,” said Kuncl. ”We are teaching them about execution of a program and the handling of the product. Produce is not a Snickers bar.”