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New Jersey produce items ready to take center stage at Super Foodtown

CEDAR KNOLLS, NJ -- The Super Foodtown here in the northern part of the state was handling quite an assortment of Jersey-grown vegetables in mid- May and would soon be featuring more items more prominently as the season continued to expand.

Among the Jersey-grown items already available when The Produce News visited here May 21 were Romaine, red leaf, green lead, Boston, scallions, leeks, asparagus, escarole, mint, arugula, dill, cilantro, kale, turnip tops and swiss chard, according to Tom Bleaken, the store's produce manager.

This supermarket and a sister store about five miles away in Lake Hiawatha, NJ, are owned by Victor Laracca.

Since September 2006, wholesale grocer Bozzuto's Inc. in Cheshire, CT, has been the primary produce supplier to the two stores. Bozzuto's in turn sources the majority of its Jersey produce for the two stores from two well- known companies in the Vineland, NJ, area: Dandrea Produce Inc. and M. D'Ottavio Produce Inc. The two Super Foodtown supermarkets also work directly with local growers for some items during the height of the Jersey season, according to Ken Brickel, a produce merchandiser with Bozzuto's Inc.

Mr. Brickel, a 32-year veteran of the produce industry who has been with the wholesale grocer for about eight years, visits the two Super Foodtown stores every week, "working with the produce team to help merchandise," he said. For example, "I let them know of any new items coming in or any special buys."

Mr. Bleaken, who has been produce manager at this store for about three years, is already forging a tight working relationship with Mr. Brickel and Bozzuto's.

"You gotta respect him," he said of Mr. Brickel. "He comes in, takes his jacket off and helps out. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty."

This location has about 30,000 square feet, of which produce represents about 15-18 percent, according to Mike Gallagher, corporate field merchandiser for Foodtown Inc. The produce department was expanded about two years ago, basically doubling the linear feet of the department and installing modern multi-deck cases, he noted.

Concerning the 2007 Jersey deal, Mr. Bleaken termed quality "very nice" so far. "It's nice and fresh. It looks really good."

As the Jersey items become more plentiful later in the season, Mr. Bleaken said that many of the store's savvy customers will ask specifically for those items for which New Jersey is especially well known, such as blueberries, corn, peaches and tomatoes.

To draw customers to those items, the store will highlight "the whole front section of the produce department" with New Jersey produce items, he said. It will "also run Jersey Fresh banners from the ceiling to draw attention and create a little excitement."

(For more on the 2007 Jersey deal, see the June 4 issue of The Produce News.)