TALENT SHOW

TAMPA -- In the Sunshine State, retailers paint their stores with the bright greens, purples and -- of course, oranges -- of produce, merchandised in formats that reflect the importance of the department and the image operators seek to present to consumers.Nowhere is this more evident than in the fast-growing suburbs around Tampa, where two retailers have opened state-of-the-art stores that highlight

TAMPA -- In the Sunshine State, retailers paint their stores with the bright greens, purples and -- of course, oranges -- of produce, merchandised in formats that reflect the importance of the department and the image operators seek to present to consumers.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the fast-growing suburbs around Tampa, where two retailers have opened state-of-the-art stores that highlight their latest thinking on produce merchandising. Northeast of downtown, new subdivisions and shopping centers are attracting upper-middle class families at a brisk pace, the ideal scenario for retailers to implement new concepts and test updated merchandising schemes. As part of a stores tour during the annual convention of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association here, SN visited a new Wal-Mart Supercenter and Kash n' Karry's "in-the-round" footprint. Both stores represented the retailers' newest thinking, and in both cases, fresh produce was the lead-off department.

Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart's new 192,000-square-foot supercenter, at 19910 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., is the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer's largest prototype flagship unit to date, according to officials. Food takes up roughly one-third of the floor space, and produce alone comprises 12,000 square feet of that. And, while there are larger produce sections within the chain, this one represents all of the retailer's best thinking to date, they said.

The department's clean image is enhanced with the use of returnable plastic containers, in black and green, throughout the dry displays and wet racks. As one of the leading users of RPCs, Wal-Mart's store here puts them to maximum use. Mobile merchandisers, their color matching that of the RPCs, hold up to 16 individual containers. Most typically, they are set in a four-by-four pattern. The laden racks are then paired with endcap units to form a series of four themed islands, each topped with clear price-centered signage.

The finishing touches were found in ancillary displays bridging the endcaps and in-line displays, with produce-related items ranging from dips and sauces to powdered spices and jars of ground garlic. In most cases, the products bore a direct relation on at least one of the produce items in the adjacent display. For example, containers of caramel for dipping could be found next to the apples, while different flavored garlic mixes were located near bulk displays of fresh white and Bermuda onions.

The first grouping focused on a variety of apples, ranging from golden delicious to gala. In some cases, all four RPCs in the vertical held the same variety, particularly those high-volume movers like red delicious. In other instances, the facing incorporated a mix of apples, and on one side, pears, including premium Asians.

The rear endcap on this island combined four vertical boxes of green and purple grapes, with one-pound packs of strawberries on special (2 for $5) dividing both of them.

The second island featured a sign promoting an entire vertical line of Chilean-grown stone fruit. Then, came the citrus fruits, in varying amounts: a full line of California naval oranges; three RPCs of lemons; one of limes; as well as a similar mix of grapefruit, tangerines and tangelos. On the flip side of the island, consumers encountered a variety of tropicals, including pineapple, mango and kiwi; mixed with items with a decidedly ethnic appeal: plantains, coconuts, red bananas, star fruit and pumelo.

Endcaps on this grouping were devoted to bagged oranges and apples on one end, and New York State bagged apples on the other. In the latter instance, the items were sold out of a corrugated cardboard bin with graphics touting the New York State Apple Commission's motto, "Apple Country." It was one of the few pieces of corrugated to be found in the entire department, SN observed.

Greens, reds and a touch of orange highlighted the next island, full of head cabbage, and loose and pack tomatoes, including cherry and grape varieties. One-pound bags of carrots filled one endcap, while tomatoes and heads of iceberg lettuce anchored the other.

The final island rounded out Wal-Mart's dry selections, merchandising root vegetables and tubers, including all sorts of bagged and loose potatoes, onions and squash. The displays were bookended by bagged potatoes and containers of onions.

RPCs were also adapted for use directly on the floor, decorated with a hand-printed sign reading "Fresh! Farmer's Market Produce." Here, the "bin" appearance was achieved by stacking standard RPCs and overfilling it with product, allowing the produce to spill over into connected containers. On this day, the options included naval oranges, Fuji apples and bag white potatoes.

Officials pointed out that the store was currently testing the new industry-approved RPC for bananas. A lone mobile merchandiser held four containers full of the bananas, which were selling for 48 cents a pound. Otherwise, bananas were featured in their own table display next to the prototype RPC set-up.

This store's wet rack forms a back wall to the produce department, and here, too, the retailer uses RPCs to create neat, orderly displays. According to officials, more than 80% of the store's produce items arrive from the distribution center in the plastic containers, though they may not be merchandised on the floor in them.

On the day of SN's visit, RPCs could be found holding squash, green beans, eggplant and yellow corn, among other items.The in-line cases also are home to herbs, vegetarian options like tofu, fresh juices, party tray packs and roughly 12 feet of bagged salads, merchandised in a five-deck section at one end.

Kash n' Karry

While Wal-Mart's store showcases freshness in an efficient manner, Kash n' Karry's store here, on the Tampa Palms shopping plaza, at 17605 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, fosters a more European atmosphere. The chain, a division of Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, borrowed key elements from its European parent Delhaize, to create the "in-the-round" format that pushes the grocery aisles back, and front-end aside, to showcase produce/floral, deli and bakery.

This 48,000-square-foot store opened in August 2000, next to a Home Depot, which shares the parking lot. And, like other supermarket retailers operating in the area, Kash n' Karry officials here told SN this unit is the most recent prototype as the footprint continues to evolve.

Produce is located just inside and off to the right of the glass-filled atrium entrance, and soaks up the natural light. Large, colorful wall panels of fruits and vegetables further perk up the store's purple and green color scheme. At regular intervals along the wall, vases and planters hold large sprays of flowers or other greenery. Several free-standing tables and chairs invite customers to sit among the amid the floral, bakery and produce displays. The other primary component of the outward-facing, fresh-foods arch -- deli and fresh meals -- lies just on the other side, closer to the store's checkout area.

Freshness is emphasized by placement. For example, mobile merchandising tables are positioned so that only bulk items face the door, with bagged items on the back side. The loose produce was displayed "spilling" from the sides of wooden baskets on a bed of excelsior on the day SN toured the store. Three island displays built around like items occupied a portion of the department's open selling space, with a curved wet display running along the outside wall. Each item is clearly marked with small picture signs noting the item and price.

In the first table group, melons spilled out of the buckets while wired wood crates held cabbage. On another, pears, apples and stone fruit tumbled out of the baskets. In back, the tropicals -- pineapple, coconut and plantains -- were among the items found. In every case, the displays were fronted by related items or specialty stockkeeping units in small numbers.

In one example, an artful display of various tomatoes -- loose romas, net-bagged cherries and clamshelled grapes -- was complemented by a selection of fresh potted herbs, like basil. In another, a tiered endcap of bananas included multiple facings of vanilla wafers. All the merchandising sets included an eye-pleasing mix of baskets, crates and corrugated cardboard. In some cases, the wireboxes were stacked to the lip of the table, extending the available merchandising space for a particular item. Above, track lights suspended from the ceiling brightened particular exhibits.

The store's wet display covers a lot of ground, and frames the department in color. The entire length is topped my a mirrored back and alternates between two decks and open space for creativity. A banner strip running along the top of the entire cases series touts the chain's 100% Freshness Guarantee.

Starting just inside the door are stacks of loose greens, carrots, radish bunches, savoy cabbage and broccoli, to name a few. Next, the wireboxes were used to merchandise red and green peppers, cucumbers eggplant, pole beans, red potatoes and green beans. Above, the shelf held premium orange and yellow peppers and asparagus. A selection of mushrooms rounded out the choices.

This store intercepts the shopper at this point with a four-foot, four-deck presentation of vegetarian items, smack in the middle of the produce wall. Here, shoppers will find vegan yogurt and sour cream, polenta and wonton skins.

The case set changes to a single level as the selection moves to more than six kinds of apples. Each display includes a wirebox in the front. Bagged apples and citrus are next, followed by grapes, and one-pound clamshells of strawberries and pints of blackberries.

Specialty and ethnic items fill the other end of the wall display, where shoppers will find eight feet of items like chiles, shallots, banana peppers, malanga, boniato and calabasa. The two-deck section used the same wireboxes and packing straw that were found on the island merchandisers.

The back end of the produce department is devoted to salad mixes and accompaniments. The five-deck section spans a full 18 feet, and offers not only mixed greens, but also dips, croutons and a variety of refrigerated dressings.