Produce the star of the show at new ShopRite location

2NEW MILFORD, NJ — Inserra Supermarkets Inc. has a motto that serves as a guideline for the 23 ShopRite stores it operates: "Eat Well, Be Happy."

With that philosophy in mind, there will be a lot of happy customers in this area, as Inserra held a grand opening June 12 of its latest location, here, a dozen miles northwest of New York City.

The new store, which replaces a recently shuttered location a mile down the road, is a state-of-the-art supermarket with around 60,000 square feet of selling space. It boasts modern amenities with full-service deli, seafood and meat departments, wide aisles and an abundant selection of groceries. But the star of the show is the produce department.

Like many supermarkets, the produce department greets shoppers as they enter the store. This 4,000-square-foot department offers a full array of fresh produce items, from conventional and organics to tropicals and value-added. When possible, Inserra features local produce and highlights the farmers who grow it.

"We define local as anything grown in New Jersey," said Eric Beelitz, director of produce for Inserra, who oversees the produce program for all 23 stores operated by Inserra. "We have an agreement with Abma's Farm in Wyckoff (around 10 miles west of New Milford) to sell their produce when in season, and in fact, we are in touch with them on a regular basis. I can send the owner a text about what I need and the next day we receive a shipment. That's about as fresh as it gets."

But an operation the size of Inserra needs alternate sources to meet the rising demand for fresh, healthy produce, and Beelitz said he has agreements with a number of growers in the Vineland area in the southern portion of the state. On this day in mid-June, Winslow Junction branded blueberries from Matro Family Farms in Winslow, NJ, were being featured, along with Top Crop blueberries from Donio Inc. in Hammonton, NJ. Also, leaf lettuces from Flaim Family Farms in Vineland beckoned shoppers.

Beelitz said he tends to use the same local growers year after year, but he does like to look for new suppliers who can meet Inserra's high standards.

"That is where an organization like the Eastern Produce Council is so valuable," said Beelitz, a member of the council's board of directors. "Attending their events is a great way to network and meet new contacts."

Beelitz also said the chain works closely with Wakefern Food Corp., the leading U.S. retailer cooperative, in order to keep its produce departments stocked with the highest quality products.

The layout of the produce department inside Inserra's newest location is inviting to shoppers, with clean and easily accessible displays and a wide variety of products. The store also conducts demos to further draw attention to featured items and increase produce sales.

"We know that a lot of people like farmer's markets, and we try to give them that experience here by offering the freshest product," said Vic Martinez, produce manager of the New Milford ShopRite. "My staff is also always eager to interact with the shoppers to answer any questions they might have or offer a sample of product. In fact, we get to know our customers very well and we are on a first-name basis with many of them."

Aside from the local trend, Beelitz said he has noted an uptick in the demand for convenience items, such as cut fruits and vegetables.

"We have a staff in the back room that does all of our fresh-cut daily," he said. "All of our stores have an eight-foot section of fresh cut fruit in the refrigerated case, and we also do cut vegetable packs that appeal to consumers who want to cook at home but may be pressed for time. This is our answer to the meal kit delivery companies, and it's become a big deal for us."

Marie Sweeney-Tevis, public relations director for Inserra Supermarkets Inc., said the Inserra family is committed to the health and wellness of its customers, and as part of that effort it hired Dana McLaughlin, a registered dietitian, to oversee a staff of dietitians that work at each location in the chain. McLaughlin, who has been with Inserra for over five years, and her team work closely with the produce managers to develop meal ideas that utilize the fresh produce offered in the stores. She also holds cooking classes and nutrition seminars in the stores, and is available for one-on-one consulting as well.

In the end, Beelitz said, flavor is at the heart of the success of the produce program. "It's all about freshness and flavor, that's what keeps people coming back to the store," he said.

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