Be Serious about Freshness

Be Serious about Freshness

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Be Serious About Freshness!

There are certain principles, certain “rules of the road”, that can never be expressed too many times. Many would list “The Golden Rule” as one of those; others would cite philosophies about honesty and integrity as unchanging guidelines that can never be over-stated. We all have those principles in our personal lives, but there are also those that govern how we conduct ourselves in the workplace.


At Caito Foods’ 2017 Fresh Foods Conference, I had the privilege of sharing some introductory remarks as the event began. Those thoughts centered on principles that I feel are as relevant today as they were years and years ago: “It’s all about Good Food”…  “Customers Buy with their Eyes”…”Price is Important, but Quality is Most Important”…”Fresh is the most Powerful Word!”…”Shopping can still be Exciting”.  Those of us who have been in this business for years recognize that these brief phrases have been part of our values and beliefs—in the fresh produce realm—since we stocked our first case of bananas years and years ago.


Today, I would like to remind all of us about one of those principles—about its importance and how we sometimes fool ourselves as we monitor it at store level. I want everyone to be serious about freshness!


MERCHANDISING TIP OF THE WEEK. Many of you reading this were able to attend our Fresh Foods Conference last September. At the risk of restating information that has previously been shared, I will list and paraphrase some of my thoughts— and add some additional ones—as I speak to this most important Produce Department principle:


Fresh is the most powerful word!  If I asked everyone reading this to describe their produce department and program, the word “fresh” would be used countless times. That’s what we all have been trained to think—it’s almost like part of a script that we are taught on our first day at work. I can hear the veteran produce manager telling the new hire: “If anyone asks you about anything...say it’s fresh!”


I think you should take that word more seriously than that.


You should, beginning today, challenge your produce department operations to see if there are ways to ensure that your product is—seriously now—FRESHER! You should challenge us—Caito Foods—to buy in ways that makes us and, consequently you, fresher. You should challenge yourself to order in ways that make your product offerings fresher. Merchandising should be exciting, but in ways that do not compromise the quality—and freshness—of the product displayed. The old adage “Stack it high and watch it fly”  might speak to the value of massive displays, but stacking peaches or bananas several layers deep does not help the customer who is left to choose from that bottom layer.


I think you should be that serious about being fresh.


“Fresh food shouldn’t have a nightlife.” Many of you recall me singing the praises of Pret a Manger, an international sandwich shop chain based in the United Kingdom.  I have visited one of their U.S. locations in Manhattan. Small, brightly lit, immaculately clean deli/coffee shop that offers freshly made sandwiches, salads, soups, smoothies...and wonderful coffee. I tell you about “Pret” (as they are referred to by their countless fans) because they take that “freshly made” thing a bit further than most comparable businesses. They say it this way: “You won’t find ‘sell-by’ dates on our fresh sandwiches, salads and baguettes. We offer our unsold food to charity at the end of each day rather than keeping it to sell the next day.” And I’ve watched that happen.


Powerful. And from the Pret a Manger website: “Fresh food shouldn’t have a nightlife”. I understand that such a commitment to freshness could have incredible impact on profitability in the supermarket produce department world. But what if you took one aspect of your business—fresh-cut fruits and vegetables—and made a promise to your customers that anything left over at the time of your next delivery would be discarded—or donated to a local food bank? What if, instead of looking for ways to get more days added to the sell-by date, we committed to freshness that surpassed those dates?  What if, instead of just saying “fresh” we actually lived it by making such a commitment.


I think you should be that serious about being fresh.


And, speaking of sell-by dates...I know many of you consider them a nuisance and an impediment to selling. After all, who will buy a salad with one or two days left on its shelf life? I get it. But I tell you this: I wish that every fresh item we offer had a sell-by date. It’s the perfect way to show us just how old we allow products to get—and still display them as if they were just harvested, picked, or processed. Check yourself fresh is that head of iceberg lettuce? How long has that squash been on display?  How old are the products that your customers cannot judge by a printed date? And, more importantly, are you ordering / pricing / displaying products based on maximizing freshness?  Freshness can never be compromised—not to create short-term shrink reductions, not to keep shelves full, not, most importantly, because a product is viewed as “hardware” and incorrectly considered non-spoilable.


I think you should be that serious about being fresh. Happy Selling!

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