UNITED URGING RETAILERS TO JOIN TRAINING PROGRAM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association here is pushing to get more retailers to participate in Produce D.A.T.E., a training and development program for produce department associates.The program consists of an annual open-book test designed to evaluate and hone the skills and knowledge of supermarket produce associates, who work in store teams to research the questions

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association here is pushing to get more retailers to participate in Produce D.A.T.E., a training and development program for produce department associates.

The program consists of an annual open-book test designed to evaluate and hone the skills and knowledge of supermarket produce associates, who work in store teams to research the questions and complete the test. D.A.T.E. stands for development and training evaluation.

Participation has remained relatively stable in the three years that the program has been available to the produce industry. Last year, for example, about 21,500 stores requested the tests, but only 5,300 tests were completed and returned for grading.

Organizers believe potential growth in participation will be among stores that are requesting the tests but aren't returning them to be graded, and therefore don't appear to be using them.

"A group of 15,000 stores isn't following through on completing the tests," said Buck Jones, president of Jonessco Enterprises, Dallas, coordinator of the D.A.T.E. program. "A little more effort by the corporate vice presidents or directors of produce will get this accomplished," said Jones, who discussed the program in a press briefing at the recent annual convention of United in San Diego.

"This program is designed to give store-level produce managers the tools they need to better understand the rapidly changing world of fruits and vegetables," said Tom Stenzel, United's president. "The more they know, the more everyone benefits."

Although United wants more stores to get involved, participation by produce departments is fairly high, said Jones, who administers similar D.A.T.E. programs for deli and bakery. These two programs have been available twice as long as Produce D.A.T.E. but have much lower participation rates, Jones said.

Participation in Produce D.A.T.E. is highest among Southeastern states and lowest in New England. The highest scores in 1993 were from stores in Northcentral and Northwestern states.

The test has 200 questions, which change each year and cover a variety of subjects, including merchandising techniques, produce knowledge, selling skills and nutrition.

Also included with the test is a demographic survey designed for corporate produce directors that helps United track trends among produce departments. One of the patterns revealed by the questionnaire, for example, is the view by produce executives that precut produce and convenience items will have the most significant impact on the industry in coming years -- a subject that permeated discussions at this year's United convention.

Stores that score among the top 10% of test takers are honored with plaques and announced at the United convention. This year, 510 stores were recognized.

For more information about participating in Produce D.A.T.E., contact United at (703) 836-3410.