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    Supervalu Aims To Enhance Produce Distribution With Stand-Alone Depot

    MINNEAPOLIS -- Aiming to provide fresher product, greater variety and superior customer service to retailers, Supervalu has unveiled plans to launch a new division dedicated to fresh produce in August.

    MINNEAPOLIS -- Aiming to provide fresher product, greater variety and superior customer service to retailers, Supervalu has unveiled plans to launch a new division dedicated to fresh produce in August.

    The new company, W. Newell & Co., takes its name from Supervalu's original parent company, which started selling produce in 1930s. It will be housed in a $25 million, 155,000-square-foot facility presently under construction in Champaign, Ill., and will have its own sales and customer service staff.

    Industry veteran Gary Gionnette will head the new produce company as c.o.o. He has held the role of Supervalu's corporate v.p. of produce since 2000. In addition to having oversight of the company's total produce distribution operations, Gionnette also led a comprehensive strategic review of the category which ultimately led to the creation of the pending new stand-alone business segment.

    "Supervalu really wanted to take a look at how effective we were in produce," Gionnette told Progressive Grocer, "so when I returned in 2000, we embarked on a rather extensive analysis to take the whole business completely apart and develop a strategy to rebuild it to become far more effective with providing fresher product, greater variety and superior customer service to the clients we serve in the markets in which we operate."

    "In this business, it's all about freshness," Gionnette said, "and that's where we saw a real opportunity to get better."

    With a network of some 23 facilities currently distributing fresh product to customers across the country, Gionnette said, "What really drove our strategy was a determination to find a way to move product from point of production -- the field -- to point of consumption -- the consumer -- as absolutely quickly as we could, to take every additional day out of the process."

    While the primary focus of Supervalu's new produce arm will initially aim to "better serve existing customers -- both independents and corporate retail," Gionnette says once the new operation is refined and perfected, "we hope to attract increased business among customers that may not look at us a produce solution."

    Of particular importance, says Gionnette, are the opportunities Supervalu has to enhance organic bottom line growth, "by increasing consumer consumption of fresh produce with our existing customer base. This is all about consumer's desire for fresher product and greater variety, which represents a huge opportunity."

    A new "tiered" customer support model will enable the company to customize its offerings to meet the needs of every type of customer, says Gionnette, who was president and c.e.o. of Driscoll Strawberry Associates prior to 2000. From 1987 to 1998, Gionnette was part of the Supervalu team as v.p. of category management, Central Region, v.p. of marketing, director of merchandising and corporate director of produce.

    Before joining Supervalu, he spent 14 years at Safeway in various positions, including director of produce, Eastern Division.
    --Meg Major

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