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EPC President And Longtime New York Regional Retailer Vic Savanello Talks About Treasure Hunt Opportunities on NYPS Bus Tours

The last day of The New York Produce Show and Conference offers a panoply of tours. We asked Carol Bereuther, contributing writer for Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, to speak with Vic Savanello, Senior Director of Produce and Floral at Allegiance Retail Services, and President of the Eastern Produce Council, to get a heads up on the opportunities available.

Visiting a supermarket might seem like a boring chore. Instead, it offers a golden opportunity as part of the New York Produce Show’s annually anticipated industry bus tours on Thursday, December 14. In fact, according to Vic, a 35-year retail industry veteran in this region, what these tours offer is a treasure-hunt chance to see produce retailing first-hand in one of the most populated, most prosperous and most ethnically diverse metropolitan markets in the world.

What’s more, two of the tours also feature a look at how produce arrives to market via two very different types of terminal markets. We spoke with Vic to get the scoop on what attendees can expect, what the treasures are and where to find them.

Vic Savanello
Senior Director of Produce and Floral
Allegiance Retail Services
Iselin, New Jersey
Eastern Produce Council

Q: With your retail hat on as Senior Director of Produce and Floral for Allegiance, a company that supports independent supermarkets in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania under banners that include Foodtown, Freshtown, D’Agostino, Market Fresh and Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace, why should attendees go on one of the New York Produce Show’s five bus tours?

A: The bus tours appeal to many different people. No matter what arm of the industry you’re coming from, it shows you the flavor of this region. If you’re a retailer, for example, you’ve got over a dozen retail establishments covered by the different tours. If you’re a wholesaler, you can see probably two of the busiest terminal markets in the country. In essence, the tours are an opportunity to see what retailers and wholesalers are doing to sell more product and succeed in a region that’s really saturated with retailers and other options.

Q: Could you give us a sneak peak of the retailers on these tours?

A: Sure. You’ve got the Manhattan tour, New Jersey retailers and those in Brooklyn. In other words, you have inner city, suburbia and a place that’s somewhere in-between when talking about Brooklyn. It’s not inner city, but it’s an urban setting. Retailers in each of these areas attack their businesses a little bit differently.

Q: Let’s start with a preview of retailers on the Manhattan tour.

A: These are much smaller footprint stores. These retailers try to deliver both groceries and meal solutions. In a city like Manhattan, there can be five restaurants in each block, so there are so many options for meals. Now, in addition to foodservice, this includes everything from supermarkets right down to the convenience stores throughout the city.

This focus on meal solutions, or feeding people whether it is giving them groceries, or items to put in their refrigerator, or dishes to bring home and heat up that night, is something you’ll see at retailers like D ’Agostino, Le District, Brooklyn Fare, Morton Williams and Whole Foods. Meal solutions seem to be these inner-city stores’ immediate focus now.

Q: How about the New Jersey retailers? What can you tell us about them?

A: Out in the suburbs, whether it’s the ShopRitesKings, Morton Williams or Whole Foods, these are the more traditional supermarkets. They are also trying to provide customers with meal solutions, but it’s more about being a brick-and-mortar supermarket. There’s all the different varieties of packaged grocery-type items as well as perishables.

Q: Now, how about the Brooklyn stores?

A: One interesting thing about Brooklyn people coming from outside the area might not recognize is that this is really where the epicenter for Millennials is today. Sure, you think of Manhattan and that’s where the youth is, but it is really Brooklyn today that’s at the heart of the hipster movement. All the young and artistic people in the city are residing more now in Brooklyn than Manhattan.

As a result, there’s no question about it, you are going to see the latest trends in Brooklyn. For example, Square Roots is on this tour. This isn’t a market that you’d go to buy groceries but an urban farm with home delivery service of exclusive produce items. A place like Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan, is where home delivery thrives moreso than the suburbs. Plus, people in Brooklyn are more receptive to new ways of shopping. These people are usually working in the city and they find more value in their time than their money and make choices accordingly.

Another cool thing about Brooklyn is that you have stores like 3 Guys From Brooklyn, which has some heritage to it. When you see it, you feel like it could be straight out of the 1950’s. It’s an open-air store, on a corner, with produce spilling out onto the sidewalk. Very produce-centric. But it also has those other things like meal solutions going on too on the inside. City Acres Market is another one of those small stores trying to supply meal solutions and groceries.

Also on the Brooklyn tour is C-Town Supermarkets and Whole Foods. Whole Foods has always done their own thing. They’re focused on clean ingredients and healthy foods. They have their niche and are obviously quite successful. This niche could change slightly based on their new ownership (Whole Foods was purchased by online retailer, Amazon, in August 2017), but that’s yet to be seen.

Q: The Philadelphia market tour includes a stop at Wegman’s. How would you characterize Wegman’s?

A: The store on the Philadelphia tour is in Southern New Jersey. This is a traditional large supermarket chain that fits in perfectly in suburbia because of the wide range of grocery items, but they really go after meal solutions too. In fact, there is in-store dining serving many different types of food. It’s a real destination for lunch and this will be the lunch stop on the tour. Wegman’s is a truly a unique supermarket experience.

Q: Beyond retail, could you describe the two tours that visit terminal markets?

A: The great thing about the two tours, one to the Hunts Point Market in the Bronx and the Philadelphia Market, is that these are two completely different experiences. They both accomplish the same task, meaning they both service the produce needs of retailers and foodservice operators in this market.

The difference is that the Hunts Point Market is an older market. It has been upgraded, but it’s still an old traditional market, open-air, old-school, something that if you squint you’d think you were watching a video from the 1970s. It has a lot of tradition, and it has a lot of people who have been on the market for their lifetime.

Hunts Point is a great market. It screams New York. It IS New York.

Now, when you go down to Philadelphia, which is a relatively brand new terminal market. It’s a closed market, such that when you’re walking down what you’d term to be the street, you’re inside. Controlled atmosphere, cold-chain maintained… very modern. These are two completely different terminal markets that accomplish the same task.

Q: Every tour sounds interesting. What are your tips for how New York Produce Show attendees can choose the best fit for them?

A: I would choose something based on what I was looking for. If I’m a retailer and I’m looking to see retailers like myself so I can get some ideas, then I think the descriptions I just gave would help you make that choice.

If you’re looking to see something completely out of the norm, if you’re a suburban retailer and you want to see something cutting-edge and new wave, go on the Brooklyn or Manhattan tours.

If you’re a wholesaler and want to see how the terminal markets operate in this region, it’s one or the other. Do you want to see an older and more traditional market and how they still manage to operate and to be successful, or do you want to see what the newest one looks like? I think it really depends on what you’re trying to get out of the tours more than anything else.

Q: That said, what is the best way to prepare to get the most out of the tours?

A: Plan to network. You’re going to have plenty of time to talk with the people on your tour, and I highly recommend you put down your cell phone and talk to your neighbor seating near you. It is always good to get a retrospective of how everybody else sees things.

However, I always find it is interesting to talk with somebody in the store. Maybe one of the clerks working in the department or someone that is a member of the staff. Mostly, though, look at the customers in the stores. Whether it’s the Manhattan, Brooklyn, New Jersey or Philadelphia tours, each of those retailers, for the most part, targets a different demographic of shopper, a different generation, a different income level, a different ethnic background.

Keep track of the neighborhoods and take note of the diversity that you see. It’s a very important aspect to what makes that retailer tick and what makes New York so unique and so exciting. In fact, the new name for these bus tours in the future could be the Retail Treasure Hunts!


If you would like to add a tour to your existing registration, please let us know here.

Or you can register for the tours and the entire New York Produce Show and Conference right here.

We look forward to seeing you at the show … and out across the region!

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