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Gelson’s JOHN SAVIDAN Advises Other Retailers:
'Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help'

John Savidan
Sr. Director Produce & Floral
Gelson’s Markets
Los Angeles, California


Q: What items are currently selling and which are not selling as much – and why? What is driving sales of these items? How do you anticipate this will change in the next few weeks and what are you doing and planning as a result?

A: Quite honestly, everything is selling very well. There was an obvious uptick in hard good purchasing with items like potatoes, onions, avocados, apples, citrus and root vegetables when the panic buying started. These items continue to be in our top movers along with more of your daily needs items.

Q: Since we are soon entering the bulk of the domestic season for fresh produce in North America, what challenges and opportunities does this provide?

A: I think we’ll have some great opportunities this summer with more export quality fruit being available to us. Being a high-end retailer will put us in a great position to be able to get our hands on these types of programs.

Q: What advice are you giving to growers who are harvesting now and are planning to harvest soon?

A: We have reached out to our local suppliers and have told them we’d be interested in any export quality fruit and to run all of these types of items by us.

Q: With a downturn in foodservice demand currently, how have you as a retailer been able to respond to supply your customers? For example, are you selling more produce via online?

A: We are selling more fresh produce now than we ever have, and we have not had any supply issues other than the norm of weather and gap implications. The majority of our business is still done at Brick and Mortar with customers gathering in our stores — albeit at a distance — to grab their produce needs. 

Q: What is most important to you at this time in working with your growers/shippers/wholesalers?

A: Right now, it’s all about our food being safe for consumption. This means that our growers, shippers and wholesalers need to be cognizant about food safety and keeping the food supply free of harm.

We are in this together, and we need to work closely to make sure our customers in the end feel safe shopping with us and that they continue to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.


Q: What are the top challenges you see in the months ahead in terms of fully supplying your produce departments?

A: It is going to be interesting to see how this all changes the face of our business. My heart and gut tell me that we are going to be OK, and that people will want to continue to eat healthy and search out good fresh produce.

People may switch to more packaged items for the mere fact that it could appear safer when the contents are concealed. In the end, the consumers will be telling us what they want, and it will be our job to make it happen for them.

Q: In the possible economic downturn we might see, how do you see this affecting produce sales overall and the ability to price and promote in the future?

A: I’m sure we will see some bumps in the road where people will be cutting back on their spending, but I do feel it will be more along the lines of the higher priced center-of-the-plate items.

The fresh produce industry is very fortunate to still have some of the lower priced items within the store, especially when you compare to some of the other departments. People still have to eat, and fresh fruit and vegetable consumption is a much healthier option that’s lighter on the pocketbook.

Q: When this crisis is over, will consumers continue to order more produce online?

A: In my opinion, most people want to pick out their own produce rather than take the online route. For me, I really don’t want anyone else picking out my produce, and I feel much safer selecting it myself.

Q: Working through what you are now, what advice would you give to a produce executive in your shoes in the future about what to do?

A: My advice would be to stay calm, and use all of your partner relationships to get you over any hurdles that you may have. Daily planning and monitoring of the business is crucial. Having your finger on the pulse of your business will help you make sounder decisions.

I’d also recommend to not be afraid to ask for help if you don’t have the answers. Let’s face it, we have never had to deal with issues like we have these past few weeks, where decisions are made each day from team collaborations and communications.


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