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Promotions need proper execution, says Richard Ruiz of Ruiz Sales

When Richard Ruiz, president of Ruiz Sales, an Edinburg, TX-based importer and distributor of tropical items from Mexico, was approached by Texas retailer H.E.B. about running a Super Bowl-themed lime promotion, he gladly accepted the challenge.

After all, the promotion presented an opportunity to move more fruit and to give consumers what he believes are the highest-quality limes in the area.

To carry out the promotion, Mr. Ruiz developed special 2013-02-06Ruiz Sales limes at a McAllen, TX, H.E.B. location. (Photo courtesy of Ruiz Sales)point-of-sales materials featuring a lime character in football attire, and H.E.B. agreed to sell a three-pound bag of Persian limes for $2.49.

The big game came and went, and while the promotion was deemed a success, it could have been better, according to Mr. Ruiz.

“H.E.B. was selling the three-pound bags for much higher than $2.49,” he said. “I went into one of the H.E.B. stores and watched a man struggle with whether to buy the limes. He picked up the bag and then put it back down. Then he picked it up again and walked away, only to return a few minutes later and put it back.”

Mr. Ruiz finally approached the man and asked him about the limes.

“I didn’t tell him that I was the lime supplier or anything, I just asked him why he put the limes back,” said Mr. Ruiz. “He told me that they were too expensive. I asked him if he would buy them at $2.49, and he said, ‘yes, definitely.’“

So even though the promotion was good, Mr. Ruiz believes it could have been much better and H.E.B. could have moved much more fruit and made more money if it had priced the fruit correctly.

“I even lowered the price of the limes by a dollar a box for H.E.B. so that they could still make money at $2.49,” he said. “They could have sold three times more if they priced it better.”

The missed opportunity illustrates a point that Mr. Ruiz has been trying to make with the industry for years.

“We as an industry must do a better job of providing safe, premium-quality produce at a price consumers can afford,” he said. “The consumer, especially the moms and kids, keeps the entire industry in business, and we need to build and preserve their trust.”

A big part of maintaining that trust is for retailers to tighten up their buying practices and only buy from reputable distributors who a dedicated to supplying safe product.

“If the retailers do not clean up their act, then the entire industry will lose,” said Mr. Ruiz. “I challenge them to get things right. The industry also needs to be honest and re-evaluate itself and make changes where they need to be changed. Only then will we be able to move forward on a path to success.”

Mr. Ruiz also renewed his call to the industry to step up food-safety and traceability efforts.

“Traceability should be mandatory and not voluntary,” he added. “It should have been done last year, but last year is gone. But 2013 is here, and it needs to be done now.”

Mr. Ruiz added that retailers also should implement better training at the store level in how to better handle and merchandise product, including point-of-purchase material that meets the customer’s demand for the nutritional facts of the products.

In other news, Mr. Ruiz said that Ruiz Sales has been recognized as a Role Model by the Produce for Better Health Foundation. This is the first time the company has received this designation, which is the top honor the foundation bestows upon a company or organization.

Mr. Ruiz said that while he is honored by the recognition, his main focus has always been — and remains — doing the best job for the industry’s ultimate customer — the consumer.

“In 2013, it is not about the grower or the packer or the retailer,” he said. “It’s not about the conventions or the meetings or the cocktail parties or the rounds of golf. It’s about the moms and kids at home eating a bag of fruit that is safe and flavorful and high quality. If we don’t get that right, we as an industry will never be successful.”

Ruiz Sales is a Hispanic family-owned, minority business enterprise and an affiliate of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.