Produce Retailer featured Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops Markets, in the January/February issue of the magazine. In addition to talking with us about his career, Tops and the broader produce industry, Jeff gave insight on topics from organic merchandising to greenhouse-grown produce to the future of online grocery. Check out the digital edition for more of his perspective.

Jeff Cady started his career in produce in 1986. Back then, he had been doing landscaping and some other jobs when he began a part-time role at a grocery store.

“I wanted to get indoors, to be quite honest. I wanted to get into some air conditioning. Little did I know, I walked in, they put me in the produce department, and not only was it air-conditioned, it was really cold – they put me in the produce back room.”

Cady got his start with Giant Eagle and later worked for Finast, which merged with Tops in 1996. Cady worked in store-level produce operations until 2002, when he moved to the corporate side as a produce and floral specialist. He has been director of produce and floral for Tops since 2014, and interaction with people in the business is what he enjoys most about the work – that and merchandising.

“Dealing not just with the store folks and people here in the office, but the vendor community, I really enjoy that, talking with industry peers … We’re all talking about something that we love. And whether you’re in the store and you’re doing the job, hopefully you love or at least like what you do, and that’s what I truly enjoy. Also, I like merchandising … all the colors, smells, textures, all those things. That’s really one of the favorite things I think that we get to deal with in produce.”

Tops has big plans for the year ahead, from integrating organics in its produce departments, to working on plant-based merchandising, to remodeling stores and allowing more space for produce. The integration of organics has already begun and has been a home run, Cady said.

“I think it makes shopping easy. You’re putting choices in front of your customers – you don’t have to hunt it down. That’s why I think it’s a home run. I think the fear when you hear organic – and not everybody, but I think people fear that the cost of retail is so high that it’s out of their league, but I think when it’s side-by-side with the conventional product, that lets them know and takes away that fear … ‘Wow, I can afford to try the product.’”

Another area in which Tops has seen growth is online grocery. The company launched delivery through Instacart in November 2017.

“There’s been significant growth since we’ve launched it … Every week we see new customers, they’re coming in and trying the service … and then return customers that keep coming back, so that part’s really good. We figure by 2025 online shopping could account for roughly 20-25% of sales. That’s where we see it going.”

When people talk about the potential of online grocery, they often mention that shoppers do not want someone else picking out their fruits and vegetables. That doesn't hold true for everyone, though.

“Actually, we are seeing a lot of people use it with produce. If you’d asked me, without having data, I would say the same thing. I would feel the exact same way, but no, they’re actually higher than you would think. We found that 65% of the baskets online have produce items in them, and I think that’s roughly 10% higher than what it is in store, so that’s pretty good, I think.”’

Continued growth of online grocery will be something to watch in 2019 and beyond. As for other trends, it can be tricky to identify what matters to shoppers and what is only a fad. Convenience, however, is here to stay, Cady said.

“People don’t want to take the time to slice and dice anymore – they do, but a lot of times they don’t … People want these things done for them because they say you can’t buy time, but you can buy time. You need more time, you can buy it.” 



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