Originally printed in the August 2018 issue of Produce Business.
Fresh produce is big factor in success of this newly converted market in South Georgia.
A sign displaying “Farmer’s Finest” over a produce background adorns the wall of the produce department at B&T’s Food Fresh grocery store in South Georgia. It’s symbolic of produce’s importance for the Mount Vernon, GA, store.
Located in the Vidalia sweet onion growing region — a dozen miles west of that onion’s namesake city — the store previously was operated under the Galaxy Thriftway banner. It recently re-opened under new management.
“Produce is an important part of our store,” says William Triplett, store manager. “Produce sells well.”
William Triplett is the father of John Triplett, one of B&T’s co-owners. In December 2017, the younger Triplett and Clark Brunson purchased the store, adding it to their other stores in Rentz, GA and Twin City, GA.
The longtime friends grew up in Sylvania, GA, east of Statesboro, GA. After college, John Triplett bagged groceries. In the early 2000s, he and Brunson, who worked in aviation, purchased their first store.
B&T’s emphasizes produce, which is a traffic-building category. William Triplett says it sells many bins of storage onions and 10- and 15-pound bags of potatoes.
For several reasons, produce is critical to B&T’s’ operations. It’s the first thing customers see upon entrance. “If that department is standing tall and is fresh with attractive color separation, it sets the tone for the shopper for the entire store,” says William.
Eye-catching displays are important. Placing produce in color breaks, which align items by their color across a display, helps sales. “It’s absolute beauty when you display produce in such a way as to separate colors so you don’t have two orange-colored ones beside each other,” says William. “Separate them as much as you can. You can’t always do it, but you can do it to a large extent.”
When shoppers see the vibrant colors spread across the wall on display, they’ll purchase them, he says. “If we can get them in the produce department and get them to pick up one item — they will buy more than one item. That’s the whole game.”
Signage is a key part in merchandising. If a produce department is promoting an item on sale but doesn’t erect a sign to alert shoppers of the sale, no one will take advantage of the lower prices. “If you put produce on sale without a sign, it’s like an undeveloped photo,” he says. “You don’t see the whole picture.”
Keeping Up Appearances
William Triplett says the product’s condition trumps other factors. Sometimes, price will sell when quality won’t, but normally, quality will outsell price every time, he says. “It doesn’t matter what price you have on it. If it doesn’t look good, it won’t sell and shoppers won’t think about it the next time they come into the store. The condition of the produce department is more important than pricing. We must do our jobs of displaying and merchandising.”
To ensure strong appearance, Triplett instructs his produce workers to take a bucket through the produce department and pull anything they wouldn’t personally take home. “That’s the first and foremost thing,” he says. “The produce manager has to walk the case first thing in the morning. Appearance is everything in the produce department.”
Cross-merchandising is also important. The store likes to place greens, for example, near offals, the lower-quality meat cuts which work well in collard greens dishes. The store may even display meat, along with seasonings, near vegetables, which can boost sales of those items.
“The big thing is to take care of your rack,” says Triplett. “If it looks good day in and day out, and the customers trust you, they will be back.”
In B&T’s weekly ads, produce usually accounts for about 15 of the 200 promoted products. Two of the front-page features are usually produce. The full-color newspaper insert is produced on slick paper, which helps distinguish it.
Specials Move Volume
To attract shoppers to the produce aisle, Wacky Wednesday sales offer one, sometimes two, produce items at or below cost. Bananas, for example, may go on sale for 49 cents per pound; cabbage at 38 cents per pound. A 10-pound bag of potatoes could sell for $1.99. One time, the store featured 3-pound bags of onions for 99 cents.
“When you run those type of items at those prices, you will move some volume,” says Triplett. “You can get shoppers in the department looking for those items.” Produce is therefore a hook. “Produce is very important to us and is one of the reasons why we continue to look at different ways to merchandise the products,” he says.
Most of the time, the store tries to feature items that pair well with a particular holiday, such as Easter, which calls for vegetables that can be cooked. In the summer, it showcases watermelon and cantaloupes.
When local Georgia Grown product isn’t available, B&T’s sources from suppliers on the Atlanta State Farmers Market. Merchants Distributors Inc., headquartered in Hickory, NC, is a major supplier, as is Atlanta’s Collins Bros. Corp. Mount Vernon’s J&S Produce, Inc., supplies Vidalia onions and green beans as well as Braddy Farms, Inc., a local Vidalia grower.
Because local produce is important to its customers, the store will purchase local as long as it can. Signage helps spur sales. “Local is a good thing for the customer base,” says William. “The customers really want it. Most of the time, it has a very good flavor to it. At this store, they can buy produce as reasonably-priced as they can on the side of the road. When they buy it here, they know it will be refrigerated and displayed properly.”
Larger Georgia Volume
During the local season, which begins in late April and early May with Vidalia onions, B&T’s sources cabbage, green beans, squash, sweet corn, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes and broccoli, which start harvesting at different times through the summer. “The store purchases a lot of local produce as it becomes available,” says William.
Georgia growers have increased their production. “More of the Florida produce market seems to be moving into South Georgia because of the weather and availability of water here,” he says. Because of demand, more Florida growers are expanding to the state, says Triplett.
Produce accounts for 8 percent of sales at the 18,000-square-feet store. The section includes 15 feet of dry produce and 40 feet of refrigerated produce.
Organics aren’t a large item. However, the store carries some organic products, including apples and packaged salads. As its customer base expands, it would like to add more organic offerings, says Triplett.
B&T’s takes special requests. Ginger, which was a customer request, is now carried regularly. It also erected a fresh-cut fruit section. The products are processed by a supplier.
Though B&T’s is the only grocery store in the county, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t face competitors. Within 18 miles is a Walmart, and other stores operate in nearby Vidalia, GA. “Everyone has competition, no matter where you are,” says Triplett. “If we do the job as well as we demand our employees do, we can hold our own against any of them. Competition should never scare you. It should make you work harder.”
The store’s demographic is primarily middle class. Agriculture, including Vidalia onions and pecans, is the county’s main industry. Triplett characterizes Mount Vernon, which is populated by 2,541 residents, as a typical South Georgia small town. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montgomery County is 69 percent white, 26 percent black and 5 percent of Hispanic origin. The city, founded in 1872, is home of Brewton–Parker College, a private Baptist liberal arts college.
The store was closed for several years before others purchased it and ran it as Galaxy Thriftway for six years. The building was constructed in the early 2000s. William says the store is doing well and has been embraced by the community.
A produce industry veteran, William worked his first grocery job at a Morristown, TN, Food City. He was a general manager for the Nash-Finch Co., and also worked as a representative for Wetterau Foods in Charleston, SC, and at General Produce, Inc., in Atlanta.
“Produce, meat and grocery are important, but there’s nothing more important than the customer,” he says. “If you listen to the customer, they will tell you what they need in produce.”
B&T’s Food Fresh
304 S Railroad Ave.
Mount Vernon, GA, 30445
P: (941) 378-2727
Hours: Mon – Sat 8 am to 8 pm;