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Steve Veneziano has 'a passion' for produce

WOODBURY, CT -- It sometime seems in today's world that many 20- somethings (and even some 30-somethings) are still finding themselves, still wondering what they want to do when they grow up. Perhaps every generation says this about the one coming up.

Then there's Steve Veneziano Jr.

Mr. Veneziano started working part time as a produce clerk while he was a sophomore in high school, has worked part time as a cashier and deli clerk at a supermarket, and is currently produce manager at an upscale retailer in Woodbury, CT. He loves fresh produce and hopes to advance to store-level management in the future.

But Mr. Veneziano cannot order a beer at Fenway Park while watching his favorite team. He is all of 19 years old.

"Four days after I turned 16, I started working part time at Adams Supermarkets as a produce clerk," Mr. Veneziano told The Produce News in early March. He was a sophomore in high school at the time. Four months later, in February 2005, he went to the Watertown, CT, location of LaBonne's Markets to work part time as a produce clerk but where he also worked as a cashier and deli clerk. "I was learning many aspects of the retail store," he recalled.

He graduated from high school in 2007 and transferred to the LaBonne's Markets location here in Woodbury in November of that year, and was named produce manager Dec. 1.

He is currently taking on-line courses in business to enhance his produce career, and hopes to earn an associate's degree in about two years. "I like the produce business," he stated proudly. "I have a passion for it."

That's not surprising at all, since the produce business is, as the saying goes, in his blood. His father, Steve Veneziano Sr., spent five years as the produce manager at Everybody's Markets, which at one time had eight stores in Connecticut, before leaving to become a firefighter. He has been a firefighter now for 22 years.

His grandfather Joe Veneziano enjoyed a 40-year career in supermarket retailing, including 35 years as a produce buyer and store buyer also at Everybody's Markets, before retiring in September 2005.

And he has another well-known relative in the produce industry: Greg Veneziano, who is director of produce and floral at wholesale grocer Bozzuto's Inc.

The young Mr. Veneziano's day generally begins around 6-7 a.m., "making sure the shelves are in top shape." Fresh produce takes up almost one entire aisle out of seven aisles at this location, and accounts for about 15 percent of total store sales. And it is the first aisle shoppers see when entering the store.

He calls in orders to Bozzuto's four days a week. Dan McAllister, a produce merchandiser at the wholesale grocer, handles ad plan work and other merchandising responsibilities for all three LaBonne's Markets locations. Bozzuto's has been supplying produce to the LaBonne's stores for about five years, according to Mr. McAllister.

Mr. Veneziano generally concludes his day around 4:30 to 5:30 in the afternoon. He is also acting store director two days each month.

Even in his short produce career, Mr. Veneziano said that he has seen the entire produce category expand. "The whole field is growing - vegetables, citrus, even potatoes," he said. "The demand is very strong for organics." He hopes to attend some organic trade shows in the future to learn more about this growing category, he added.

Mr. Veneziano played baseball in high school, and is a big fan of the Boston Red Sox. He lives at home with his parents and younger sister. In his spare time he enjoys watching car racing as well as working on cars. "My best friend and I work on a lot of cars," said Mr. Veneziano, who proudly called himself a "gearhead."

Before embarking on his produce career, he had thought about going into computer programming. But asked where he saw himself in the future, Mr. Veneziano did not hesitate in his reply. "Produce is what I enjoy the most," he declared. "I just love to make the stand look good. I'm a big fruit man myself. Produce is a constantly changing environment. I like to try new things."

He continued, "I've learned a ton here -- really learning and working hard. I'd like to write the ads, and 10 years from now maybe advance to store-level management. I definitely want to stay in the retail produce business."