Scott Wiggans is produce director for Lazy Acres Market, a five-store natural foods grocer in Southern California owned by Bristol Farms. In addition to its Lazy Acres locations, Bristol Farms also operates 13 eponymous stores. The company has a 20,000-square-foot distribution center, and its five Lazy Acres stores sell about $300,000 of organic produce per week. Scott joined OPN to talk about his background in produce, Bristol Farms’ advanced warehousing and logistics capabilities, how he markets his local organic growers, and more.
How did you get started working in the produce industry?
I’ve been working in produce since I was just a 17-year-old kid looking for a job. I put myself through college working full-time in the produce department and then got moved up to a produce manager position. When I graduated college, I was in a really good spot in the grocery business, and I loved the trade of produce. I eventually became a district produce manager and a regional produce manager and a buyer, and now I’m a produce director. I’ve been all over the country and seen a bunch of different retail formats, and I’m very happy to be here at Lazy.
Scott Wiggans, produce director, Lazy Acres Market
What drew you to Lazy Acres and its parent company Bristol Farms?
Lazy Acres/Bristol Farms is just a really awesome company to work for. I had the unique opportunity to fly out here from Florida (where I was working at Lucky’s Market) and interview with the leadership of this company for the position that I’m now in. I had the chance to walk some of the stores and meet the people and see what was going on with a small company that has plans to grow the Lazy Acres banner. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up! I felt really comfortable with the company leadership, and I felt it was a good fit with my past career skill set.
What percentage of Bristol Farms’ produce is certified organic? Is the percentage the same in both the Bristol Farms stores and the Lazy Acres stores?
Lazy Acres has a very high percentage of organic produce—we’re probably around 75-80 percent. Lazy is a whole-scale specialty produce shop, which means we carry a ton of different SKUs that are harder to find in other places. A good portion of those are not even available organically, which does take our percentage down some. And Bristol is probably around 40-50 percent—but they’re expanding their organic offering everyday.
Lazy Acres Natural Market in Mission Hills, San Diego
Do you source any of your organic produce directly from farms?
We do. We have our own distribution center here in Carson, and we have about 20 of our own semis. We do all of our own transportation and warehousing. We get deliveries every day, and then we take them and build the pallets for the stores based off of what they’re ordering.
Our produce operation is actually very advanced here for the amount of stores that we have—and that was another big selling point for me to join the company. The distribution center here gives us the ability to get fresher product to the stores than a lot of our competitors. It allows us to literally buy product out of the field in the morning and have it in our stores by the afternoon.
What wholesale distributors do you work with for organic produce?
Wholesale distributors don’t do a very big portion of our organic offering. There are certain times when we may work with a Heath & Lejeune or a Charlie’s on one item that they offer that fits the bill of what our customers look for, but we definitely aren’t buying a majority of our produce through a third-party distributor because we already have that built into our operation.
Lazy Acres Market organic produce
Now that you’ve been in Southern California for a little over a year, do you feel like you’ve gotten to know a lot of the local organic growers?
Definitely. There are a lot of conferences like the Organic Produce Summit and some smaller conferences as well where I’ve been able to talk with some of the smaller independent organic farmers about how we could develop relationships in a mutually beneficial way that’s also for the good of our customers. If they have a quality local product and the insurance is right, then we usually look to work with them instead of a larger shipper.
And because Lazy is a small, locally oriented five-store chain, a lot of local farmers seek us out and contact us with opportunities. They say, “Hey, we’d really like to work with you. We love what you guys do. We grow such and such an item that’s available through this window. Is it something you’d be interested in?” So there’ve been quite a few farmers that have reached out to us, knowing that we prioritize local and organic and that we’re not only focused on low price.
"The distribution center here gives us the ability to get fresher product to the stores than a lot of our competitors. It allows us to literally buy product out of the field in the morning and have it in our stores by the afternoon." -Scott Wiggans
Lazy Acres Market organic produce
Do you have any marketing efforts around your local organic growers?
Yes—and it’s something we’re trying to do more of. We really want to highlight the legit local farmers that we work with. I think a lot of companies in California, if something’s grown in state, they throw a local label on it. They try and theme it as being local, whereas we’re really trying to tell a more specific local story—not only was this grown in California, it was grown in this region by this farmer, and here’s the story of his farm; here’s a picture of his family. We really want people to know who they’re supporting when they shop at Lazy Acres versus one of the larger supermarkets.
And is that storytelling through digital media or in-store?
We’re improving on digital, and we’re also improving on point-of-sale signage. And we’re trying to work even more with farmers by having them come in and talk up their own product in our stores the same way they would at a real farmers market and allowing them to make a good amount of margin.
In the future, we also look forward to having actual farmers markets built in our parking lots just to complement what we’re doing inside the stores and to allow those farmers a chance to really engage with our customers.
Lazy Acres Market organic grapes
How has the COVID-19 situation been affecting Bristol Farms, particularly its produce department?
Well, it’s definitely affected us quite a bit. Obviously, we have a good advantage having our own distribution center, and we’ve really been able to do as good a job as—or a better job than—our competitors at keeping our stores stocked, our variety as high as possible, and our pricing right.
Overall, we’ve seen a big step up in produce distribution during this time. People are looking to eat healthier—to eat more organic produce. And I think people are willing to spend up a little bit more if they perceive that the quality and the nutritional value are higher, and that has really helped us during this situation.