Our people on the front lines are the last connection, the last shot we have to influence consumers’ produce purchase decisions. Produce Retailer magazine is featuring exceptional personnel, winners of the 2017 United Fresh Retail Produce Manager Awards.
The program, sponsored by Dole, recognizes 25 produce managers, the “best of the best” in produce departments across North America. While the big celebration dinner is held in June at United Fresh in Chicago, Produce Retailer plans to celebrate these winners all year.
Stay tuned for more in the coming months as we recognize these exceptional produce professionals, and get ready: the nomination period for 2018 is fast approaching. Visit UnitedFresh.org/ for more information.
Dillon Maple, Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa
>How long have you been in retail and produce?
I’ve been in retail 10 years full time, and 7 years in produce.
>What do you love most about your job?
Customer interaction and the personal connection you can grow with some of those customers. Our team has gained a lot of loyal customers who put a lot of trust in us ... with that when they come up to us for advice on different produce or recipes, we can potentially have an effect on what that customer puts on the table to feed their family. The fact that the department we work in is promoting nothing but healthy foods when we talk to customers is also a huge benefit.
>What’s your biggest challenge as a produce manager?
I think continuing the trend of produce consumption with everybody, but specifically the younger generation and kids. It’s truly amazing thinking about how much of an impact we can have on the amount of produce consumed just by being produce managers. In my opinion, our role is much more important than just ordering product and putting it on our shelves. We have the opportunity to make fruit and vegetables fun and appealing, but it’s our job to take advantage of that opportunity.
>What has changed most in the produce department in the past five or 10 years?
I would have to say how much of a focus has turned to the convenience side of produce. People always seem to be in more of a hurry these days and have really turned toward the items and recipes that are going to allow them to take less time in the kitchen preparing. Examples of this are cut fruit and vegetable programs.
>What are some fruits and vegetables with sales growing faster than others?
Organic produce will continue to grow for a long time, in my opinion. It seems like it’s really important to millennials and the younger generation ... so that will really allow organic food consumption to grow for many years to come. When I think of a certain item, one that really comes to mind is avocados. Especially being from the Midwest where they aren’t typically grown, people really didn’t even know what to use them for. Now that there’s so many recipes that include avocados and the health benefits have been exposed, the demand for the fruit has grown rapidly in the past five years.
>What do you think the produce industry can and/or should do to increase consumption?
I think we have to continue to raise the bar on food safety. A couple outbreaks come to mind in my time working in produce and nothing scares customers away more than the thought or chance that their fresh produce could be unsafe. We have to continue to find more precautions and ways to improve and really just continue to build customers’ confidence. One other thing that comes to mind is that we can always do better at shouting out the health benefits in the food we are selling. We are and always will be the healthiest department in the entire store, and I don’t believe we do a good enough job as managers or as an industry advertising all the incentives of different fruits and vegetables.
>What are some things you wish customers understood better about the produce department?
The fact that sometimes there are supply issues that are out of everyone’s control. When a customer comes to shop with certain items on their list, it can be very frustrating to not be able to get everything they’re looking for and I completely understand that. That’s why having more knowledge and doing research on my part of supply issues is really important so we can also educate the customer specifically on why they can’t find that certain type of produce.
>What would you tell someone who was thinking about getting into the retail industry?
I think there’s a lot of positives that need to be presented to someone looking to get into the retail industry, especially when it comes to produce. You get to work with so many different types of people that you would otherwise probably never get the chance to meet, so you have many relationships that are grown just through the job. The benefit of produce is that seasons are always changing, and because of that, so is your mind. You’re not looking at and handling the same product over and over all year around. It’s really a department where artistic and creative minds can strive. Some things on the other side that should be explained is that it is very hard work that is very hands on all the time ... You also don’t have what would be considered the most ideal schedule for most people. When everybody else is not working is usually when we are the busiest, so that is the time that we need to be ready and be here. It’s always going to be the way the retail industry is and has to be something you know when you sign up for it.