There’s a reason the details at Stater Bros. Markets sparkle.
In his 13 years at the Colton, Calif.-based retailer, Roger Schroeder, vice president of produce, has implemented programs, big and small, to make the company’s produce division a standout.
The small things, like requesting grape suppliers switch to a clearer bag with a better shape for grape bunches, make a big difference, Schroeder says. The clear bags let customers see the fruit, and have helped the retailer increase sales in its grape category.
That kind of innovative thinking, and a willingness to try new things, keep Schroeder’s name at the top of many lists, says Dick Spezzano, of Spezzano Consulting, Monrovia, Calif., who was Schroeder’s mentor during his time at Vons.
“Nobody at retail does a better job,” Spezzano says. “He’s a total produce person. From the vendor side of the community, you can always approach Roger with something new and innovative.”
Stater Bros.’ commitment to innovation is evident in its newest store in Grand Terrace. From refrigerated produce cases with specially designed doors to keep product at optimum temperature, to energy efficient lighting, the store, which opened in late August, is a showcase for new ideas.
The ability to look ahead and see produce a different way sets him apart from his peers, says Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.
“He has an uncanny ability to be ahead of the curve with creative merchandising ideas and concepts,” she says.
He has an infectious enthusiasm for produce and merchandising, says Jack Gyben, vice president of Los Angeles-based Progressive Produce Corp.
“He is a partner with vendors who bring value and ideas, and is a true leader and mentor to our industry,” he says.
His contributions aren’t limited to the buying and selling of produce, however. Schroeder is committed to helping his community through involvement with causes such as the Duarte, Calif.-based City of Hope cancer center. He also was a pioneer for the 5 a Day program in California.
DeLyser says when 5 a Day approached Schroeder about the program, there was no hesitation.
“Roger repeatedly steps up to the plate in leadership resulting in positive impact and results with industry,” she says.
Like many of his contemporaries, Schroeder never intended to make a career of produce.
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“I started in the business in 1960 as a box boy,” he says. “It was supposed to be a summer job while I went to school. It has been a long summer.”
Through his career, Schroeder stayed in Southern California, first with Vons and then with Hughes Markets before joining Stater Bros. 13 years ago. He served as chairman of the Fresh Produce and Floral Council three times and chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation twice. He also served on the Produce Marketing Association Board and was named The Packer’s Produce Marketer of the Year in 1994.
Schroeder took time with Produce Retailer editor Pamela Riemenschneider to talk about Stater Bros. and his 51-year career in retail.
What is it about working in the produce industry that keeps you motivated?
RS: The produce business is a fast paced and ever-changing-seasons kind of business. There’s the never ending quest for great quality product at the best price. It’s something that keeps me motivated every day. It also helps when you work for a great company like Stater Bros. It’s like being part of a family.
Stater Bros. used to have the unofficial “It’s our meat that makes us famous” slogan. What is the produce division doing to really get Stater Bros. noticed for its fresh produce?
RS: We in produce know how famous our meat is. Our goal has been to gain the same reputation in produce by having great quality product at competitive prices.
How are you working with suppliers to do innovative programs in produce?
RS: We are in constant contact with our suppliers on improving the taste of their product or better presentation in packaging. We try to have a better variety in our stores which sometimes means you have to go out and find something new or unique. We then work with suppliers on ways to sell our customers these new items.
What kinds of things do you look for from the grower-shipper-marketer community to help you move more produce?
RS: We look for vendors that back their product up with information and sign work to help sell more. We also expect three things: quality, fair price and good service.
What do you think differentiates Stater Bros. from the competition?
RS: We have great people in our stores. Most of our employees are longtime members of the company. This is a big asset for us.
Stater Bros. is celebrating its 75th anniversary. How has the company changed, and what is ahead in the next couple of years?
RS: We used to have fairly small stores. Over the past 15 years we have enlarged the footprint and have service delis, bakeries, enlarged floral departments, fresh seafood and a better selection in the total store. There’s no reason for a customer to go elsewhere.
Can you give some examples of outstanding merchandising successes you’ve had in your operation?
RS: One that we are very proud of is the Ambrosia apple. Seven years ago nobody had heard of an Ambrosia. We worked very hard to promote and highlight the Ambrosia to our customers. Today it’s a solid member of the apple category and favorite of our shoppers.
Stater Bros., and you, have been recognized both within the industry and at-large for your commitment to community and for efforts to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. How did you first get involved, and what is your philosophy for community service?
RS: In regards to the community, Stater Bros. has always had an attitude of not just doing business in the community but to become a part of it. Giving back is a way of doing business.
Personally, I think that when you have a degree of success you have an obligation to do whatever you can to help those less fortunate in any way that you can.
As far as my efforts to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, I first got involved in the 5 a Day program when it first started as a California program. It only made sense to get that message out to the public. Being part of the Fresh Produce and Floral Council and PMA is also an important way to stay up to date on the industry.
Who were your early influences and mentors and how did they help you succeed in produce?
RS: There are many people in my career that had some influence on the direction that I have taken. The biggest influence on me was a gentleman named Dick Spezzano. I worked for him for many years and always admired his enthusiasm, curiosity, dedication, knowledge and a great sense of humor. Working for him was like being on a team. We worked hard but had a lot of fun.
What are you most proud of in your career in produce?
RS: I am most proud of maybe having an influence on other people and watching them succeed. There’s nothing like that “Proud Dad” feeling.