For the July 2010 issue of the Reader (www.willystreet.coop/article/7603), I wrote an article titled “Changing It Up In The Produce Department,” which contained a section regarding our new produce inserts. In the article, I talked about challenges we had faced with the former inserts, and how the new inserts were addressing these challenges. Additionally, it was stated that the new inserts were a temporary “quick fix”; we had been recently approved for a complete overhaul of our product signs, but needed something in the “in-between” that was compatible with our new product data software.

Initial reaction to the new inserts was about 50% good, 50% not so good, which was really no surprise. While they looked “neat and clean,” they were different. They were functional and contained the same information as the previous inserts, but some of that information was not quite as apparent. Over time, comments dwindled and then vanished, and we returned to business as usual in the Produce aisle.

This Spring, Megan Blodgett, Willy West Produce Manager, and I sat down to talk about what we wanted from our new signs. The project had been in the works for a while but had lost steam along the way. The Communications department was swamped with a list of projects, and when we had met as a group, we struggled to find a manufactured product that we liked and would meet our needs. The project wasn’t moving fast enough, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.

Both Megan and I recognize that what we do as produce retailers is fairly unique. The majority of produce provided in our departments is organic and locally grown. This is what we wanted to really stand out on our new signs, and we knew an “out-of-the-box” product wasn’t going to meet this need. So, we did a little brainstorming and looked around to see how other Co-ops were doing there signs.
Here’s an example of one of the signs we came up with.

Price
Price is fairly straightforward: it’s either sold by the pound, or by the unit (bunch, each, etc). We’ll be sliding a price insert into a pocket just like we did in the past.

PLU
PLU numbers will now be printed on the sign instead of the price insert. Currently, placement is being determined, but it’s either going to be in the lower left or lower right corner of the sign.

Product
Product names will be clearly printed on the sign, similar to what we’ve done in the past.

Origin
Origin is perhaps our biggest challenge. At times, we may have product from two to three sources in one display. And, while we go above and beyond Country of Origin Labeling laws by indicating the state of origin or the actual farm we purchased the product from, it can be confusing, particularly when trying to source exclusively local product. We understand its difficult to determine what’s local when the sign states “WI/IL/MX” as possible origins.

We’ve received numerous Customer Comments regarding this situation during the Eat Local Challenge last year asking why we used this strategy. How were participants supposed to know which cucumber was WI grown when the sign read WI/IL/MX?

The reality is that the Challenge happened to be taking place when our local season was nearing its end. Growers weren’t sure if they would be able to fill orders. Our regional distributors were in the same situation: local sources couldn’t guarantee delivery. So, maybe we received one case from our local source, a case from Illinois from one vendor, and a case from Mexico from another vendor to ensure we had enough product throughout the day. And, since bountiful displays promote sales, and it takes two cases to fill a display, we stock out two of the three cases in the morning, and the third in the afternoon to keep the display full through the busy late afternoon/early evening shopping hours. We do our best to provide information so shoppers can make informed choices, but we also need to keep displays full to supports sales and remain fiscally healthy. Do we wait to completely sell out of the WI product before we can stock out the others and then change the origin to reflect that source? As an individual who wants to keep his job, I’m saying let’s keep those displays full!

So, what we’ve done is we’ve separated origin from the price insert. We’ll be manufacturing and filing individual farm, state, and country inserts that will allow stockers to change origins as necessary. Stockers will also have the ability to easily create origin inserts that reflect what is currently on the shelf, which they have not been able to do in the past. This doesn’t mean we won’t have a couple of origins listed, but we should be able to reduce the occurrence of this scenario! And, if you’re ever in question, ask a stocker. Most items coming from California and Mexico have a sticker with some numbers and a bar code, local product does not. Additionally we get familiar with the product characteristics that make each farm unique, and can more often than not identify a locally grown product in a mixed display.

Product Status
This is perhaps the biggest change we made to our signs, and the most exciting. Factors that determine a product’s status include: Locally Grown, Conventionally Grown, and Organically Grown. Having received feedback regarding difficulty in determining which products where organically or locally grown, we have chosen a color scheme to indicate a products status. We felt this strategy would make it easier for customers to make informed choices, but that it would also really highlight our locally grown and organic products.

Each of the new signs will be composed of a header and a body. The header will can contain up to two fields to indicate multiple status scenarios, i.e. Locally Grown/Organically Grown or Locally Grown/Conventionally Grown. For products whose status is simply Organically Grown, only one of the fields will be populated. Headers will be green for organically grown, purple for locally grown, and orange to indicate conventionally grown.

The body of the sign will also indicate a products status. All Locally Grown product’s will have a purple body, and either a purple (Locally Grown) and green (Organically Grown) header, or a purple (Locally Grown) and orange (Conventionally Grown) header.
Organically Grown products that are not local will be indicated by a green body and a single green header. Conventional products that are not local will have an orange body and single orange header.

We’re really excited to roll the new signs out, and hope you find them easy to use and helpful. Let us know what you think. Have a great rest of the summer. For those of you participating in the Eat Local Challenge. Thanks and good luck!