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Changing It Up In The Produce Department

Have you noticed anything different about the Produce department lately? There has been so much going on it’s been hard to keep up with it. In March, we parted ties with our old familiar product software, or at least we made our best attempt. It was great. We were learning on a live system, while maintaining data in our old system due to shortcomings with the new system. Six weeks after going live with the new software, we were finally able to pull the plug on our old system. Once again, this was not a flawless process. Tears have been shed, tempers have flared, and I’ve requested a couple of large foam novelty hammers to persuade the new software to cooperate with me.

As difficult as this transition has been, I’m still excited and enthusiastic about the potentials our new software has to offer. We’re ironing out the wrinkles on our daily processes and discovering efficiencies as we go along. In the end, the new software will enable us to better manage our business, and provide us data to better meet our Owners’ needs. While the Co-op’s need to make this change was necessitated by outside factors, it is a change that should benefit us all.

The concept of change is intriguing and complex. Change invokes our emotions. It brings out the best, and the worst in us; it can make us happy or sad. Either we accept it, or do our best to reject it. It is inevitable and constant. How young children adapt tochange, or transition, is often used as an indicator of behavioral or learning disabilities. There are businesses built around helping other businesses and individuals deal with change management. In ’08 we voted in a new president on his promise to bring about change. It is an undoubtedly powerful force.

Change is a natural part of the Produce department, driven by the seasons. In the winter months, we focus our efforts on hearty, warming foods like root vegetables, potatoes and winter squash. In the summer months, we switch our displays up to emphasize local veggies and cooling fruits. Instead of heaping displays of potatoes, we pile out the berries, melons, stone fruit and grapes. And, while these changes can be a lot of work, we look forward to them. It’s something different, and gives the department a fresh new look and feel.

One of the challenges presented by our new software system was a price insert. While the system can do a million and one things, it could not produce a simple price insert. So, we took this as an opportunity to make improvements.

Challenges we faced with our previous inserts had been identifying locally grown items, and identifying organically grown items. While it may have seemed obvious the purple inserts were a clear indicator of locally grown items, we continuously received customer comments from long time Owners requesting that we carry locally grown products. Ironically, these comments came at the peak of the local season, when almost every vegetable we offer is locally grown. Additionally, customers, and not just new customers, often inquire as to the organic status of an item. For those of us who work in the department, it’s obvious: everything you see with the exception of a few items in the cooler at the far end of the aisle is organic, and it’s stated on every insert for every product. Evidently, our inserts were not clearly conveying this information.

So, our Communications department sat down at the drawing board faced with the challenge of designing unique, easy to read, informative inserts, and IT was charged with making them work with the new software. The kicker: an overhaul of the entire produce department’s signage had been approved for the 2011 budget but moved into 2010 budget so as to ensure the project was completed at our current retail site and ready for the opening of the new store. I was looking for a quick fix with components that could potentially be integrated into an unknown, undetermined system. Isn’t change great?

Long story short: new inserts were obtained. Now, I know what a lot of you are saying because I’ve either heard it directly from you, or through staff working the floor: “I really liked the old ones; the print is too small on this; and I can’t tell if it’s locally grown.” To a certain degree, you are correct. The locally grown inserts are no longer purple, and the font size for the price is two points smaller than the font size used on our previous price inserts. But, I’ll also say that over time, most of us will get used to the new layout, and like the purple inserts, locally grown products will be obvious. You’ll recognize the Willy Street Co-op lamp logo with Locally Grown next to it as a local item. And, regarding the price font-size reduction, it’s still two points bigger than any font used in the grocery aisles. It’s smaller than it had been, but it’s larger than 90% of the pricing fonts used in all other departments throughout the store. I rest my case, your honor.

Are these going to be the new, permanent inserts? Probably not. With a new signage system and a second store under way, how many of our resources do we want devote to perfecting something that works but is almost certainly a temporary solution?

If you hadn’t noticed the new insert layout, you must’ve noticed the new dry rack. Again, thismay be temporary, but so far we really like the extra space the layout provides. There’s a lot more room midway through the aisle, and we’ve also gained an extra few feet of space for shoppers at our salad cooler, which has been a tight squeeze and a sore spot for me for years.
We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from many customers who enjoy the extra space. I can’t argue with that, but I’m personally not completely settled on the merchandising scheme. I don’t like the fact that the bananas are concentrated into one, giant display; it’s a sea of yellow. Not to mention, if you’re shopping the salad cooler and want bananas, you now have to walk around to the other side of the dry rack display to get them. Some have said, “Do you really need all that space for bananas?” And the answer is, “By all means, yes, and then some.” We’ve sold over a ton of bananas in a single day, and up to 8,000 pounds in a week. Now, if we were okay with paying someone to stand there and stock bananas from open to close, less space wouldn’t be an issue, but that just isn’t going to happen.

So, while the layout may be long-term, I think it’s safe to say that the jury is still out regarding the merchandising scheme.

With the excitement of the new store, and all the changes taking place here, let’s not forget the peak of the local growing season is fast approaching, and so is the Co-op’s new Eat Local Challenge. As always, you’ll be able to find a bountiful supply of premium locally grown veggies in the Produce department. The Grocery department has all of your canning, freezing, and preserving supplies, so get yourself ahead of the game and put some of this great local food up. Unfortunately, there aren’t many local, organic fruit growers whose production can consistently supply the Co-op, but odds are, you can find them at one of the area farmers’ markets. Supporting local, organic farms ensures you’re getting the most out of your food, and decreases our dependence on petroleum-based fertilizers and oil. As if the tragedy in the Gulf isn’t reminder enough of why our efforts are so important.

I hope you enjoy the summer and challenge yourself to make changes for the better. If it’s committing to the Eat Local Challenge, great. Maybe you’ll start a compost pile for a future garden. Maybe you can do it for a neighbor’s garden. Even it’s just slowing down and committing to a meal of locally grown and produced foods once a week with friends or family, it’s a start. Change is a good thing.

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