Jeff Oberman, Vice President of Trade Relations for United Fresh, Discusses 2017 Retail Produce Manager Awards Program

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Fri. November 18th, 2016 - by Jordan Okumura-Wright

WASHINGTON, DC - Produce managers are such an essential part of our industry. From representing the face of fresh produce to the consumer, to building the dynamic energy within their own teams–this group of buy-side trailblazers should be acknowledged everyday. With that said, United Fresh is once again shining the spotlight on this prestigious position with its 2017 Retail Produce Manager Awards Program. Nominations open!

Jeff Oberman, Vice President of Trade Relations, United Fresh Produce AssociationJeff Oberman, Vice President, Trade Relations for the United Fresh Produce Association joined me for a little Q&A this week, to discuss the importance of the Produce Manager, the nature of the program, and where it took root: 

Q: What was the vision behind this program and honoring these produce managers?

Jeff Oberman: United Fresh launched the Retail Produce Manager Awards Program in 2005 to honor these individuals who represent the face of the industry before the consumer. These winners and their corporate retail produce teams are celebrated by the industry at the United Fresh Convention that will take place on June 13-15th 2017 in Chicago. When looking at the big picture of increasing overall consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, it truly is the Retail Produce Manager. They represent a trusted resource within the store, and can make a huge difference in sales, customer loyalty, and their communities. Past winners continue to share their valuable insights with us today, as well as consumer feedback, merchandising strategies, community outreach, and they also serve as mentors to their own store-level teams. 

Q: How has the program evolved over the past 13 years?

JO: This program has grown from an initial winning class of 8 winners in 2005, to our current annual 25 honorees. Since the program’s inception, nearly 300 produce managers have been honored, representing more than 90 retail banners. 

We are grateful for our program’s sponsor Dole Food Company. They have truly made this program a year-round honor for all past and present winners. Dole helped spearhead in-store visits to all 2016 winners and provided them with monogrammed aprons, hats, signage, and fitbits to celebrate their honor.

Jeff Oberman, Vice President, Trade Relations, United Fresh Produce Association, Tom Brendel, Produce Buyer, Schnucks Markets, Jason Norviel, Produce Manager, Schnucks Markets, 2016 Retail Produce Manager Award Winner, Megan Kreutzman, Assistant Store Manager, Schnucks Markets and Steven Ware, Sr. Director Sales, Dole Fresh Vegetables

Tim Stejskal, Senior Vice President of Sales for Dole Fresh Vegetables shared with me that "this is Dole's third year as title sponsor of the United Fresh Produce Manager of the Year Award, and we could not be more proud to be a part of this important recognition program. These men and women do so much to promote the increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and this gives us an opportunity to recognize that contribution and genuinely say thank you." 

Q: So, what is the biggest misconception, in your eyes, about produce managers?

JO: I believe some consumers have no idea of the importance of a produce manager in the retail environment, and how their efforts may represent one of the top reasons to shop at a certain store. Or, that in fact they are managers who run their own team including assistant managers, merchandisers, clerks within their department–like a store within a store. 

Jeff Oberman, Vice President Trade Relations, United Fresh John Griesenbrock, District Vice President, Hy-Vee Mary Fuhrman, Vice President, Produce/Floral, Hy-Vee Dan Hanson, Produce Manager, Hy-Vee, 2016 Retail Produce Manager Award Winner Troy Heun, Produce Supervisor, Hy-Vee Karen Labenz, Retail Account Manager - North Central Region, Dole Fresh Vegetables Mike Orf, Assistant Vice President, Produce Operations, Hy-Vee

Not only do these produce managers exhibit strong leadership, but one of the major criteria used in selecting the 25 winning Retail Produce Managers is their community service. 2016 winners showcased these skills, from hosting tours in their stores for community youth, to visiting WIC program offices to share with moms how they can now purchase fruits and vegetables with their benefits, to offering a free produce item to kids who find a ‘decorated’ piece of fruit in their departments. The impact they have on the store and the community does not stop there as they participate in school events, fundraisers, and local entertainment and sporting events. 

Q: How do produce managers help to change the way that we think about new possibilities within the traditional brick-and-mortar format?

JO: Many of the stores I visited contained traditional center-store grocery, pharmacies, and other departments, but these produce managers run their departments almost as a microcosm of the store itself; showcasing the color, flavor, and excitement of produce to develop a loyal customer base. They each bring their own nuances and strategies to these departments and it truly is what sets them apart as a leading manager. 

The 2016 winners were not shy about creating the most exciting, awe-inspiriting merchandising displays, whether seasonal, holiday-themed, or event-based to welcome customers to their respective stores.

Jimbo Howard, Produce Manager, Food City/K-VA-T Food Stores, 2016 Retail Produce Manager Award Winner

These produce departments become theaters which encourage impulse purchases and communicate the retailer’s goal to provide ‘healthy’ value to the shopper. During my discussions with these produce managers, they shared how the focus on healthy eating continues to grow and consumers are wrought with questions as they explore the many options for purchase of fresh produce at their favorite retail stores–especially after watching TV shows like Dr. Oz, who may highlight the virtues of a certain fruit or vegetable, or the rise of the food network that brings an interest for scratch-cooking to homes across North America.

While United Fresh rounds out their Produce Manager Program with an exclusive 25 honorees, the team behind the initiative is ever-grateful for the impact that all produce managers have, and for the path they pave for increasing fresh produce consumption.

Jeff shared that, traditionally, United Fresh receives hundreds of nominations each year that are judged by a selection committee made up of former retailers, merchandisers, and produce industry representatives who review and contrast nominations for a month to determine each years’ winners. Each year the numbers and quality of nominations continue to grow and improve.  

So, visit and nominate, nominate, nominate! 

United Fresh