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RETAIL VIEW: Resets for value-added are domain of category captain

The advent and proliferation of the value-added category and the refrigerated cases in which they are displayed have brought a new dimension to the produce department reset. Today, it is typical for a "category captain" from the supply side to be responsible for resetting the value-added display case two, three or even four times a year.

Experts in the field say that resets in the grocery sections of a supermarket have long been the role of the suppliers. Alan Warburg, who is a produce industry specialist in the Los Angeles office of Acosta Sales & Marketing, a nationwide retail sales and marketing firm, said that the sheer volume of products in the grocery sections of the supermarket required suppliers to take the lead role.

"There are 25,000 new items [in grocery] every year and only 2 percent of them stick," Mr. Warburg said.

With those kind of numbers, Campbell's, Kellogg's and Kraft had to provide the labor for resets or they would never get done -- and their new products would not get shelf space.

But that is not how it was done in the produce department. Longtime industry veteran Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting said that a typical produce department would usually have two resets every year. "We would do one around Memorial Day and another after Labor Day," he said.

Mr. Spezzano explained that the Memorial Day reset would be used to place the summer fruits front and center, and move the apples and some of the other winter fruits to less prominent positions. The department would be flipped again after Labor Day when summer fruits would go out of season and apples would regain their prominence.

These rests, he said, were always done in-house with each store supervisor having some flexibility as to the exact schematic of the department.

In California, Mr. Spezzano said that the vegetable layout in the wet rack changed slightly but not that much.

"In much of the rest of the country, they would put the lettuce up front during the summer and the cooking vegetables up front in the winter. But in California, where it is hot all year long, lettuce often remains in a prominent position. We used to reset about a week before Thanksgiving to feature the cooking vegetables and then change it back again at the first of the year after the holidays were over."

Mr. Spezzano said that he would tell his supervisors that if he was led into a store blindfolded and then viewed the produce section from the front, "I should be able to tell the season and the demographics of that store."

Each store should have its own personality and reflect the season via the items emphasized through merchandising, he said. The store should "shout" the seasons through merchandising Rich Van Valkenburg, who spent many years in the retail sector in Southern California and is now a partner in the sales and marketing food brokerage firm Deminski, Van Valkenburg & Associates, said that the whole produce portion of the produce department operates in the same fashion that it has for many years. "The resets in the commodities are still done in-house," he said.

Both Messrs. Van Valkenburg and Spezzano said that retail produce merchandisers do often listen to the advice of the commodity boards and large suppliers when designing a schematic, but it is their own sales figures that determine which products go where. While the chain's district produce supervisors and merchandisers still have some flexibility, those interviewed said corporate-designed schematics that every individual store follows are becoming more prevalent, even on the commodity side.

Mr. Warburg said that sales are the driving force behind the resets in the value-added section, even though it is individual suppliers that provide the labor. The value-added items, with their UPC codes, have hard sales figures that are easily tracked. The top- selling brands and varieties get the most space.

He said that the value-added display case is divided into categories with the category leader in each subsection charged with the responsibility of redesigning the case. The chain also typically assigns a "verifier" to sign off once the "captain" redesigns the space. The verifier is often the supplier who is second in sales in that category.

While this would seem to give a captain some added influence on the design, Mr. Warburg said that the captain must justify everything he does. For example, he said that in the refrigerated salad dressing category, "bleu cheese and ranch account for 62 percent of sales," hence they better have a majority of the space. "If you don't have those two varieties, you are out of business."

So a category captain who allotted extra space to a low-selling salad dressing flavor in his design would probably not have the design approved. Once the retailer has approved the redesign, many of the different suppliers get involved. Mr. Van Valkenburg said the actual resets are typically divided among the category leaders that have retail personnel to accomplish that task. Other suppliers are then billed to offset the cost.

While the commodity resets are usually done only twice a year, all those interviewed said that the continued addition of products have made resets in the value-added section occur much more often.

"But I think we are moving toward only having two resets a year" in the value-added department as well, said Mr. Van Valkenburg, who opined that the number of resets has gotten out of hand in some stores where new products are being added constantly, thus necessitating a change in the design.

Mr. Van Valkenburg said that many chains use a piecemeal approach to resets, changing each section and sub-section at different times. However, he believes it works better for a store to reset the entire department at one time. "It freshens up the department and gives it a makeover. If you do it one section at a time, the customer might not even notice it," he added.

Mr. Spezzano said that in today's retail environment, more stores are devoting more space to the produce department, which helps immensely when creating a reset. "You have to shout who you are," he said.

For the most part, he said that retailers do this with the promotional space they have. During much of his career, a produce department consisted of a wet rack and a few freestanding dry tables. Today, he said, many produce departments have freestanding refrigerated cases and much more shelf space and many more dry tables strategically located to attract customers.

Mr. Spezzano said that he loves to see those tables set up in the front of the department to announce the seasons and draw customers into the department.

"Merchandising had gotten stale," he said, "but with all the extra promotional space, most retailers I observe are doing a very good job."