TAMPA, Fla. – We all see reports on consumer trends and purchase patterns, but a recent discussion of the Food Marketing Institute’s Power of Produce report took it a step further with a panel of retailers discussing how the top findings are reflected in their operations.

The panel was held at the Southeastern Produce Council’s Southern Exposure on March 2, and included participants from Giant/Martins, Hello Fresh and Kroger.

Anne-Marie Roerink, principal of 210 Analytics, which produces the Power of Produce report, discussed the top 10 key findings, and Rick Stein, FMI’s vice president of fresh foods led the panel in discussion.

Randy Riley, director of produce merchandising for Kroger Co., Cincinnati, talked about the company’s data-centric approach when the panel discussed ways to communicate health and wellness initiatives to consumers.

“We take customer data and make decisions on that,” Riley said, mentioning Kroger’s commitment to in-store clinics, registered dietitians on staff and a new initiative the company is working on.

“We’re working on developing a scoring system – it’s in development today,” he said. “We’re taking customers’ shopping lists and purchase patterns and scoring it and letting them know if they’re achieving their health needs and desires and offering healthy alternatives and information for them.”

Riley said Kroger hopes to release the system in the “near future.”

Another key finding of the Power of Produce is the visual element that drives produce sales.

John Ruane, chief merchandising officer for Giant/Martins, Carlisle, Pa., talked about the importance of personnel training to achieve this goal.

“One of the things that’s most challenging is really the workforce,” Ruane said. “Produce is a living department, and we have to make sure we’re culling frequently. Associates are all about freshness, and we have to invest in those associates.”

For a non-brick and mortar retailer like New York-based Hello Fresh, customer loyalty is paramount, said Jacob Krempel, director of produce procurement, produce and grocery.

Hello Fresh engages customers through social media and blogs, but doesn’t let the physical opportunities pass it by, Krempel said.

“We have a unique opportunity,” he said. “The customer is getting mail from us every week. It’s not just digital. We can include tidbits on recipe cards or in our Fresh Life magazine, which we do once a month. This is really a way to educate the customer about the product.”

Meal kits also were a hot topic for the panel, which had some lively back and forth. Krempel, who previously worked for Kroger, and Riley threw some lighthearted barbs back and forth about the right format for meal kits, among other topics.

“There’s plenty of room for meal kits in retail and digital,” Riley said. “It’s upward of a $5 billion industry. The advantage of a retail meal kit at Kroger is this – we’re a non-subscription-based, low waste alternative. The results have been astounding and we’re going to have an aggressive roll-out.”

Krempel agreed that there’s room for meal kits in both channels.

“We tap into a different customer,” he said. “We know who our core customer is. They want variety. They want to learn the skills weekly, and eliminate food waste. For us, right now at Hello Fresh, we tend to touch three or four of the twenty one meals a customer has per week. We’re asking how do we find a way to tap into the different eating occasions.”

That could mean a dinner-plus option, where the kit offers an extra portion that can be repurposed into lunch the next day, he said.

“These are two very different consumers that are looking for two different things,” he said.

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