Making Produce Sales Productive

Distributors are taking the lead on building a fresh-produce supply chain for c-stores
fresh vegetables

Consumers have their trusted go-to places, from farmers markets to supermarkets, to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables. Your convenience store could soon be one of them, if it isn’t already.

The carrot at the end of the stick? A growing number of consumers now identify c-stores as purveyors of fresh varieties of all kinds.

This past spring, Temple, Texas-based McLane Co. introduced McLane Kitchen’s Fresh Produce + supply-chain
solution, a move made in conjunction with its participation in Partnership for a Healthier America.

“We recognized our customers wanted a consistent way to fill their consumers’ need for safe, fresh, better-for-you produce,” says Holly Veale, product director for foodservice for McLane. “McLane Kitchen’s Fresh Produce + solution makes fresh produce and cut fruit available to all our customers, regardless of size or location.”

Fresh-food sales increased by 1% in total volume in 2015. It is expected to continue growing as customers begin trading up for fresh and natural offerings.
Source: Euromonitor

National distributors Core-Mark International Inc. and Eby-Brown Co. have also developed fresh-produce programs.

Active in this space for about a decade, Core-Mark uses multiple produce suppliers across its footprint, ranging from local to larger national suppliers, such as Del Monte and Ready Pac Foods.

Most Core-Mark customers are “readily embracing expanded produce, be it whole produce, cut fruit or seasonal varieties. They seem to inherently understand that consumers are looking for more fresh and healthier options,” says Jon Bratta, vice president of marketing for South San Francisco, Calif.-based Core-Mark.

Consisting of whole fruit and cut fruit, snack trays and salad bowls, Eby-Brown’s Crisp Acres program is building annualized growth as “fresh items in convenience continue to grow in popularity, and the number of stores looking for these items increase week over week,” says Sharon Kuncl, vice president of merchandising for the Naperville, Ill.-based company. “We expect growth in this category to continue into the coming year.”

The challenges, of course, are optimizing freshness and garnering trust with consumers, and distributors are focusing their programs around finding solutions.

To better facilitate a quick turnaround time for customers, Core-Mark, for example, “strives to have a shorter order-to-delivery cycle to optimize freshness, which places challenges on the supply chain,” says Bratta. “But we feel it’s necessary to help our customers meet the needs of their customers.”