Produce Retailer featured Scott Bennett, produce sales and merchandising manager for Jewel-Osco, in the March/April issue of the magazine. In addition to talking with us about his career, Jewel-Osco and the broader produce industry, Scott gave insight on topics from dragon fruit to grapefruit to display contests. Check out the digital edition for more of his perspective.
Scott Bennett, produce sales and merchandising manager for Jewel-Osco, started his retail career as a 16-year-old bagging groceries and sorting bottles. By 20, he was a produce manager. Even at that young age, he kept a close eye on his sales figures. Bennett spent the first 20 years of his career with Dominick’s Finer Foods and then worked at Roundy’s for another 10. He’s been with Jewel-Osco about six years now, and he still watches those sales numbers intently.
Bennett leads a group of 10 produce operations specialists, or merchandisers, who each oversee roughly 20 stores. He describes his selling philosophy as “old-school, in-your-face merchandising.” Items should be hand-stacked, displays big and bold, and product “so fresh it’s jumping off the shelves.”
To encourage produce managers to deliver that kind of presentation daily, Jewel-Osco often runs sales and display contests.
“We switch it up all the time. It might be the merchandisers compete against themselves, so the 10 guys, whoever gets the highest dollars out of their districts wins, or sometimes we say you get $1,000 if you hit your goal, but out of that $1,000 you have to give $500 to your stores … so they can award the right people for doing an awesome job.”
Whether the contests focus on the merchandisers, the produce managers or the shoppers themselves – as was the case with a recent car giveaway – the benefits go beyond the time frame of the promotion.
One recent contest resulted in great sales for the week of – only to have those sales bested the very next week as satisfied shoppers came back and bought the item again.
“That’s what the contest is really about – return customers. It’s not about a one-time buy, it’s about building that item, building the category, whatever it is, so they come back every week.”
Delivering the freshest fruits and vegetables, merchandising them memorably, and providing great customer service are the top priorities for Bennett.
“Shrink is the kiss of death. The minute you start merchandising to shrink, you’re done. You’ve got to always take the high road and say, ‘I’m going for sales, this is how I’m going to go get sales, if that doesn’t work, try something different, if that doesn’t work, try something different, if that doesn’t work, try something different again until it works.”
Bennett works with his produce operations specialists and produce managers to evaluate stores as needed. Data plays a key role, letting the team know where there might be issues so they can focus their efforts accordingly.
“Let’s say there’s a district that has 20 stores and there’s three stores that are down. So let’s drill into those three stores, find out (which categories are) down … Then I’ll go to the store and say, ‘Okay, what is it?’ Maybe it’s a new manager. Maybe it’s road construction, whatever. Maybe it’s something else going on that I don’t know about that if I go there, okay, none of those things are there, there’s some other problems there. So I’ll analyze the department and say, okay, I know what we need to do now. So we’ll change the department around, we’ll get our sales up.”
Along with staying on top of what is happening in stores, Bennett keeps an eye on what’s taking place around the industry. When potato sales started to dip nationwide as a result of the popularity of low-carb diets, Jewel-Osco made a point to highlight potatoes in its ads and embraced consumer education about the nutrition profile of the vegetable.
“We saw (a dip in sales) could happen, so we said, ‘We’re not going to let our potato sales fall.’ We’ve had record potato sales for the last four years, on top, on top, on top – never dropped.”
Fresh-cut, a growing category in produce, is a major strength for Jewel-Osco, Bennett said. The company has invested in other value-added items as well, from smoothies and juices to chocolate-covered strawberries and caramel apples – all made in-store.
Stores rely on more than new or innovative items to keep shoppers engaged, however.
“The ‘new’ thing you can do is how you twist your department to sell more. How do you change your look? Departments will be changed at least once a year, sometimes two or three times a year, so the look is different every time they come in, so it’s not a stagnant look.”
Bennett doesn’t hesitate to try out new ideas and see how they do, and he is not afraid to go big with items that might surprise people. Rambutans and coconuts, for example – but even several years ago, not just recently.
“I’m always learning, there’s always time to learn, but there’s some things you just know. I’ve been doing this for so long. … You’ve got to always learn, you’ve got to always try, always have an open mind, you always have to go for it. You don’t go for it, you’re not going to get anywhere.”