It’s What’s On The Inside That Counts



I had a very interesting conversation with a produce buyer recently. We were talking about product confidence.

The buyer stated that of all the hundreds of produce items he purchased throughout the year, there was only a handful of products he purchased he felt 100% confident in putting his stores’ name to.

“Only a few?” I asked. “Only a few,” he replied. “Day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year, there are only a few products I buy I feel I could stand behind and guarantee 100%, all of the time.”

He went on to say there were several other product lines that came close, but only a handful was unquestionable. I went on to query what made these products so unique – what were the growers/suppliers doing that made these products so special? He replied it was consistency and relationship.

  • First, the products were always consistent. To be packed in a premium brand, the standards were exacting, both for quality and taste. So these products were always the same day after day and consumer confidence in them was high. And their quality standards were rigidly adhered to.
  • Second, it was about the relationships with the growers/suppliers; they were relationships based on trust and knowing one another’s needs. It sounds so simple, so win-win…so why for all other produce items is it so complicated?

In Produce, Quality Problems Get Shuffle Passed Down the Line

Another case in point. I was recently in a wholesale produce market and we were talking about a product and the critical success factors the market would need to put in place to ensure the product arrived in saleable condition.

They replied that what I was asking for would never happen as problems just got passed down the channel. I asked for clarification.

They noted they were often sent product that was unsaleable in other markets – and problems got passed down to them. “At a discount?” I naively asked. No, it was at full price…plus freight.

I have to admit, I just didn’t get it. What is the point of passing problems down the line and continuing to waste time, money and other resources especially if the product is unsaleable at its final destination? I mean if it is unsaleable to begin with, it is not going to get any better!

Accountability Is Key for Produce Success

There seems to be some fundamental things lacking in fresh produce. In my recent experience doing training seminars for produce managers, there is a general lack of accountability for product handling.

But this is a two-way street. Why be accountable if no one is asking for accountability? Buyers have a key role to play in this area and the general lack of accountability for product handling is ultimately affecting shoppers.

Produce suffers from a general lack of consistency because it is a natural product subject to the forces of Mother Nature in all her glory.

It is one thing to have standards when the weather is ideal for growing your crop. It is a different story when the weather has not been conducive and you still have a paddock full of product to sell. You can’t just disc it under because it wasn’t up to specification.

A Great Pack Requires Great Product Inside

In California, the company I used to work for, Apio Produce Sales, always maintained two labels. One a premium label for top quality product, another a second label to cover for product that wasn’t quite up to standard. At the time, it worked well and offered options, which ensured the integrity of the premium brand was maintained.

So what does this have to do with produce packaging? The unstated assumption in all my writing is that a great brand or a compelling pack is worthless if the quality of the product inside is questionable or inconsistent. A great brand and a great pack begin with a great product inside