Three of the country’s top retailers are predicting continued strong growth for organic fresh produce, whether in-store or on-line, as part of a lively Retailer Roundtable at the Organic Produce Summit held last week in Monterey.
“I think the pace that organic has grown to date is not going to slow. If anything, it’s going to strengthen and build more momentum,” said Don Barnett, President and Chief Operating Officer for Sun Basket, an online meal delivery company. Barnett was joined by Greg Corrigan, senior director ofpProduce and floral for Raley’s; and Vic Savanello, vice president of produce for The Fresh Market. Tonya Antle, co-founder of the Organic Produce Network, served as moderator, guiding the panelists through a slew of issues from projected growth to cannabis to new technologies.
Don Barnett, President and COO, SunBasket
All three see strong growth ahead for organics in-store and online. Corrigan says Raley’s has had years where organics have grown more than 30 percent in their stores and now their online efforts are starting to pay off. “We’re seeing phenomenal growth in online. Whether its click and collect or home delivery, we’re latching on to that just like everyone else.”
North Carolina -based Fresh Market is taking a different approach, forgoing much of the online frenzy and instead looking to expand organics throughout their stores. Savanello said, “Fresh Market is designed to coexist with what’s going on in our industry. It’s a smaller store. We’re perishable focused, specialty focused, so it can live alongside the online business and deliver that higher end specialty product that people are still going to want to see and touch.” Given the choice, Savanello said he would carry organic over conventional every time.
Greg Corrigan, senior director of produce and floral, Raley's
So how does a retailer convey flavor and quality when selling online? Barnett says it’s all about trust and delivering consistency to the customer. Sun Basket, he says, built the brand on several key things: organic, sustainable, no processed sugars, no preservatives and using seasonal produce picked at the peak of freshness and then delivering fresh, healthy meals to homes across the country. “We really are pioneers in getting organics into homes that maybe don’t have as much access to organic.”
With the advent of legalized recreational marijuana in California and several other states, CBD products are cropping up seemingly everywhere, a trend these retailers expect to continue. “Our owners are in favor,” said Raley’s Corrigan, “but it’s a fairly conservative company so there is some caution to the whole thing. I do see that coming into the stores but it will probably end up in general merchandise not necessarily in the produce department.”
Raley’s is also embracing new technologies, currently testing computer based replenishing systems in some stores.” We need to be more efficient in every way,” said Corrigan, “and technology is going to be a game changer.”
Vic Savanello, vice president of produce, The Fresh Market
Savanello is a little more reticent. Technology is important for improved efficiency, but he doesn’t want to lose that personal touch. “For a brand like mine where our mission is to make eating everyday extraordinary the critical piece is taste, flavor and quality and that’s not something you can get a lot of help with from technology,” he said.
Looking to the future and offering advice for all the growers working hard to bring organic to the marketplace, Fresh Market’s Savanello urges packaging that is clear, concise and tells the story of organic in a way that is easy for consumers to understand.
Corrigan sees big opportunity online. “Even mainstream suppliers are getting into the game.” And finally, from Sun Basket’s Barnett, ”I would encourage growers out there not to force the soil at a time when it can’t produce. Embrace new varieties that are coming out. Be bold, but never compromise.”