PRODUCE, QUEEN OF THE AISLE

APPLETON, Wis. -- Fresh foods reign supreme in the newest Copps Corp. store here, and produce is the crown jewel.The produce department, which holds the coveted position at the head of the shopping traffic pattern, features more than 500 different items."In this store, we've increased the variety of produce items," said Rod Sobczak, director of produce and floral.Sobczak said the newest produce additions

APPLETON, Wis. -- Fresh foods reign supreme in the newest Copps Corp. store here, and produce is the crown jewel.

The produce department, which holds the coveted position at the head of the shopping traffic pattern, features more than 500 different items.

"In this store, we've increased the variety of produce items," said Rod Sobczak, director of produce and floral.

Sobczak said the newest produce additions include varietals, such as baby eggplants imported from Holland. He said he has also increased the number of ethnic items available, including stalks of sugar cane.

The new Appleton store, which is Copps' second in this Wisconsin city, also represents Copps' first attempt at a full-scale fresh herb program. It features 25 different varieties of fresh herbs. While several other Copps units carry fresh herbs, the Appleton store has the largest selection by far.

Sobczak described the herb merchandiser as similar to a bedroom dresser, with each variety having its own small drawer. The compartments are about three inches by three inches, he said. Customers help themselves to the herbs, which are all priced by the pound.

"It's small, but with the price of herbs, we wanted to keep it down," he said. So far, the program appears successful, he added.

To represent the more upscale flavor of the new store compared to other Copps formats, the operator has altered some of its produce merchandising techniques. The wooden bins that Copps has used for 12 years have been replaced by refrigerated tables, for example. "We thought it was time for a change," he said. "We just tried to give produce a whole new look."

New Copps units in the future will feature the refrigerated tables, although there are no plans to replace wooden bins in existing stores.

The Appleton store also offers a juice and melon bar. A citrus peeler sits on the floor, and customers can have their oranges and grapefruit peeled on demand.

All the value-added produce, including cut melons and freshly squeezed juices, are processed right on the selling floor, as they are in three Copps units before the Appleton store.

The Appleton store, however, puts a big emphasis on single-serving sizes, Sobczak said. Shoppers can purchase single-serving fruit salads and juices.

"We're very, very into single-serving right now," he said. "This isn't just at our Appleton store, but this is a much bigger emphasis here."

The juice and melon bar is also home to the organic produce section, he said. At any given time, Copps will feature 25 to 30 organic items.

Copps placed the organics section adjacent to its natural foods offerings in this store. Since the juice bar is located near the natural foods department, it seemed a logical place for the organics as well, Sobczak said.

All this is representative of Copps commitment to produce, according to Sobczak.

"Mike Copps, chairman of the board, wanted produce to be the signature department for this company. That's what we've tried to accomplish. We're real proud of this store," he said.