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Retailers sing the praise of organics during OPS session

MONTEREY, CA — A trio of organic produce veterans, each pioneers in their own right, sung the praises of this still-developing sector at the Organic Produce Summit, held July 10-11, here.

Another pioneer, Tonya Antle, co-founder and executive vice president of the Organic Produce Network, moderated the Retailer Roundtable discussion, which probed the opportunities and challenges that still lie ahead fore the industry. She welcomed to her panel Greg Corrigan, senior director of produce and floral at Raley’s Supermarkets; Vic Savanello, vice president of produce for The Fresh Market; and Don Barnett, president and chief operating officer of SunBasket.session-5Don Barnett of SunBasket, Greg Corrigan of Raley’s and Vic Savanello of The Fresh Market.

Under Corrigan’s watchful eye, Raley’s has become a leader in organic retailing over the last 15 years. In fact, he singled out fellow attendee, colleague and organic buyer Michael Schutt for developing the program at Raley’s, as he noted that in some stores organic produce accounts for more than 30 percent of produce sales.

The Sacramento, CA-based retailer handles about 260 SKUs of organic produce items and Corrigan said online sales are also ramping up as the company develops its “click and collect” Internet platform.

Savanello operates in a retail format in which organic produce comes first. The company, headquartered in North Carolina, prefers to handle organics and it single lines with organics whenever possible.

Speaking of the online retail competition, Savanello said The Fresh Market is designed to compete alongside internet sales of food. He clearly believes the product the chain offers to consumers will win out over an online alternative.

Barnett is not a retailer in the traditional sense of the word, as he sells meal kits to consumers online, with organic farming practices as one of SunBasket’s brand pillars. He noted that with three distribution centers strategically located throughout the country, the company has the ability to bring organic food options to 99 percent of the zip codes and introduce that produce item to consumers who have access in no other way.

SunBasket also has the advantage of only having to use and sell produce items that are at their absolute peak in flavor. The company has an ever-changing list of recipes and it simply drops items if they can’t source the organic ingredients for that product.

As they discussed changes in the industry, Corrigan called technology a “game changer” that is making the company more efficient, as it can better forecast the chain’s needs and create a better replenishment system.

Savanello agreed, but warned that flavor and taste are still the most important attributes of fresh produce. He worries that technology can override good basic merchandising techniques.

Asked to looks into the future, Barnett has no doubt that the food delivery system will be disrupted in the next few years. He said Amazon did it with books and the disruption in the apparel industry followed. Food, he argues, is next.

Corrigan believes organic sales have not plateaued and will continue to grow. He said the supply chain for the sector is improving all the time, which will help spur sales.

In looking at the supply side of the business, Savanello applauded the packaging and labeling that has led to great growth in the organic salad category. He believes other items can follow that lead and offer great opportunity for increased sales in organic produce.

Barnett urged supplier to “be bold” and look for new items and varieties that they can offer to their customers.