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Produce is 'the key element' at Porricelli's Food Mart

When shoppers enter the Porricelli's Food Mart in Old Greenwich, CT, the first thing they see is a display of fresh produce. This display, which changes every week, spotlights special promotional items as well as the most seasonal items available, inviting shoppers into the main aisles of the produce department.

In mid- and late summer, fresh fruits and vegetables from the retailer's home state of Connecticut take center stage on both the opening display and in the rest of the expansive produce department.

"People like to see homegrown items, especially corn. That's the best. Native blueberries, too," said Luigi (Lou) A. DeFalco, produce director of the three- store chain.

"Presentation is the name of the game in produce," he added. "And quality, of course."

Porricelli's Food Mart was founded 57 years ago by Jerry Porricelli Sr. as a deli and expanded as the years went on. In addition to the store in Old Greenwich, the chain has a store in nearby Cos Cob, CT, and another one somewhat farther away in Trumbull, CT.

Mr. DeFalco serves as produce manager of the store in Old Greenwich, Eric Cordova is the produce manager in Cos Cob, and Mendi Mamudi is the produce manager in Trumbull.

Wholesale grocer Bozzuto's Inc. in Cheshire, CT, has been working with the chain for about 12 years and is now its exclusive produce supplier. Bozzuto's delivers six days a week to all three stores, and Frank Cilurso, produce merchandiser at the wholesaler grocer, visits the stores every week.

"Bozzuto's is a good company," said Mr. DeFalco. "It's difficult to be 100 percent, but they take care of things. They really try to please the company."

And to the savvy shoppers at the upscale Porricelli's stores, that's crucial. Produce is "very important" at the three stores, said Mr. DeFalco. Years ago it was the grocery department that was the key, but grocery items "are available in so many places now," he said. "What's holding the stores together [now] are the perishables," specifically meat, deli and produce. And of the three perishables departments, "produce is the key element."

Mr. DeFalco has been with Porricelli's Food Mart for 12 years, all as produce director. To succeed in produce, "You have to love dealing with the customers and the seasonal items," he said. "That's my fort?."

Connecticut sweet corn had just arrived at the stores for the first time this season the day before The Produce News visited July 17. "Shoppers come into the stores and ask for the local corn," he said. "They know is usually starts hitting after the Fourth of July. They are happy to see it."

In addition to sweet corn, shoppers eagerly look for local squash, blueberries "and tomatoes," he said. "People go nuts for them."

At the Trumbull location, Mr. Mamudi has been produce manager for three years. Before that he spent 17 years at LaBonne's Market, also in Connecticut. He also noted that "a lot of people are asking for [local] tomatoes," adding, "People are so concerned with what's coming into the country. When they here 'local,' they feel they can trust it more. They almost feel like it's grown in their backyard. They feel its fresher and it's going to taste better."

The Porricelli family bought the Trumbull store in April 2002, according to Ed Messina, store manager. It is scheduled to undergo a renovation beginning around mid-August, during which the produce department will be enlarged by about 25 percent, primarily to accommodate more organic produce. Mr. Messina expected the renovation to be finished before Thanksgiving.