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NEWARK, Del. -- Shoppers generally give their local supermarkets' produce departments good ratings for their service, although new consumer research from the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) here suggests there's opportunity to improve, and points to where some of those opportunities may lie.
While 64 percent of the 1,000 primary shoppers who were surveyed by telephone in late March rate the service they receive from their local produce departments positively, only 34 percent gave their produce retailers the highest possible rating, while 8 percent gave the service they receive a negative rating.
One reason produce retailers didn't earn overwhelmingly positive reviews may be that most shoppers reported that they interact very little, if at all, with produce department staff. Forty-five percent of respondents said they have no interaction with produce staff, while less than 10 percent said they had a lot of interaction; only 17 percent reported some degree of contact.
Produce retailers who interact with their customers may be getting rewarded for their efforts by higher produce sales. More than four in 10 of those shoppers who reported they have some level of interaction with produce department staff said they are also "much" or "somewhat" more likely to buy more fruits and vegetables.
"This consumer research shows that we must get back to basics," said Mike O’Brien, chairman of PMA’s retail board and v.p. of produce for St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets, Inc. "Today's consumers are hungry for information and sometimes need only a nudge to make that extra produce purchase. We should think of our produce associates as salesmen, not clerks. In the end it's all about the sales."
"We can do a better job of connecting with consumers at the point of sale, and this research demonstrates the business value that we stand to gain," added PMA president Bryan Silbermann. "We are all interested in increasing produce sales; this research shows that while we are doing an adequate job, it also offers clues as to how we can perform better."
When asked to define what constitutes a good produce department shopping experience, shoppers point to both the product on the shelves and the people who put it there. Respondents prioritize produce freshness, variety, and selection, followed by department cleanliness, staff courteousness, and low prices, in that order. When asked what they looked for from their produce department staff, those surveyed rate staff's knowledge of freshness, produce in general, quality, and availability, in rank order.
Primary shoppers surveyed by Opinion Dynamics Corp. offered their opinions on several areas in particular during PMA's latest survey. On one category that consumers ranked as important, almost half of survey participants gave their produce department top ratings for cleanliness, while only 3 percent gave them negative ratings.
Respondents also highlighted the potential value of product tastings. While less than one-third of respondents reported that their stores offered tastings, more than half of those whose stores did offer them said they are somewhat to much more likely to buy more fresh fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile more than half of those respondents who do not have access to tastings also reported that they would be somewhat to much more likely to purchase more fruits and vegetables if tastings were offered.
Surveyed shoppers also reported that their confidence in produce safety continues to increase modestly, increasing slightly since February, following last fall's foodborne illness outbreaks involving leafy greens. Twenty-eight percent reported they have the highest levels of confidence in produce safety, up from 25 percent in February.
The March consumer survey on produce department service and other recent PMA consumer surveys is available for purchase through a comprehensive consumer research subscription series by contacting PMA's Solution Center online at www.pma.com or by phone at (302) 738-7100.