‘Produce dictates what kind of store you are,’ says Highland Park Market Produce Director Brian Gibbons.
Originally printed in the July 2022 issue of Produce Business.
The story of Highland Park Market, located in Manchester, CT, began in 1886 when William White opened a small general store in the hope of providing his neighbors with a carefully selected stock of dry and fancy goods.
In 1958, Jack Devanney purchased this small, hometown market and held fast to those same traditions.
“Over the years, Highland Park has become synonymous with high quality, reliable perishables and grocery,” says Brian Gibbons, produce director. “We have become a relatively small, high-end grocery store, where we offer exceptional quality and service from the time you enter our store until the time you leave.”
In 1985, Jack’s son Tim took over as president and expanded to locations in Glastonbury and Farmington, CT. “The stores have always been a family-owned and operated business,” says Gibbons. Today, five of Tim’s six children are in the business and have taken over the day-to-day operations of the stores.
From the beginning, Highland Park immersed itself into each community where stores are located. “We have been welcomed by a strong family base of customers in each area,” says Gibbons. “The stores are located in affluent residential communities and cater to healthy people who care about themselves and want to buy the best, freshest produce on a daily basis. Our stores continue to grow because we strive to be the best perishable grocery store around. We offer only the freshest and finest produce available in the marketplace.”
Each store is around 20,000 square feet, with produce departments ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. Produce plays a vital role in all the stores. “Produce dictates what kind of store you are,” says Gibbons.
Produce is the first thing customers see when entering the store. The store offers a wide variety of both fruit and vegetables, including organic produce, which continues to grow each year. The department handles approximately 300 fresh produce items and merchandises usually 10 sales items per day.
“We want it to be as fresh and full as possible at all times,” says Gibbons. “Customers want the very best berries, fresh fruit and vegetables and we are here to provide them with exactly that.”
Produce runs an average of 18% of the store business. “This is tremendous for a grocery chain,” says Gibbons. “It’s one of the most profitable departments in the store.”
Even from outside the store, abundant produce or seasonal displays lure customers. At springtime, the front entrance of the store looks like a nursery bursting with flowers and plants. During fall, enormous displays of pumpkins and cornstalks put shoppers in a bountiful frame of mind. Inside the store, produce displays focus on sale items, seasonal items and colorful items. A fragrant, fresh cut flower display greets customers as soon as they enter the department.
VERY VISUAL MERCHANDISING
Produce department décor balances an old-time grocer feel with clean and modern touches. A bright, open format presents an ideal showcase for produce. Signage gives a nod to the old-fashioned general store feeling while clearly identifying departments and sections.
The department uses low wood bins and tables with different designs such as octagons and squares. “The goal of these displays is to be able to merchandise different items next to each other while still seeing the whole way across the department,” says Gibbons.
Space under some of the tables allows room for cross-merchandising produce-related items, such as bottled lemon or lime juice, polenta or canned garlic.
The store puts seasonal or ad items front and center. “We try to merchandise fresh berries, grapes and different seasonal items up front on sale,” says Gibbons. “These displays especially include items such as strawberries, blueberries, green and red grapes, clementines and cherries.”
The department is flanked by large refrigerated cases. On the left side, eight feet of wet greens and 36 feet of refrigerated vegetables give shoppers an enormous amount of choice and draws them in with expert use of vibrant and contrasting color. The case also merchandises a variety of salad dressings, dips and other value-added vegetable items.
A 40-foot case of refrigerated fruit, juices, cut fruit and other value-added fruit items lines the right side. This case includes bright, color-blocked displays of apples, pears and citrus to draw the shopper’s eye. Ample space between the twin refrigerated cases allows for wood tables of bountiful displays down the middle of the department for melons, tomatoes and potatoes.
While some items remain constant, the staff tries to change the offering to continually display what is best for customers. “We constantly change our displays throughout the year to push the most seasonal items, as well as items on sale,” says Gibbons.
CONNECTING PRODUCE TO CUSTOMERS
Principal produce sources start with wholesalers. “Our main wholesaler is Shapiro out of Boston and we also use C&S and Four Seasons,” says Gibbons. “We rely on our wholesalers for consistency and quality. Quality, sizing, price and daily deliveries are all important criteria in our sourcing.”
In the summer, Highland Park adds product from an abundance of local farmers. “Summer is great, with fresh, Connecticut-grown corn, vegetables, blueberries and peaches delivered daily,” says Gibbons.
The store distributes a weekly circular, and every Saturday and Sunday, the store spotlights three weekend produce items, says Gibbons. “These are just in-store specials that we promote to customers.”
Every summer, the store executes a big Connecticut-Grown Promotion. “We put all the farmers and their locations in our circular,” says Gibbons. “It lists who we are buying from, so our customers know exactly where we are getting our great Connecticut-Grown Produce.”
Gibbons explains the store’s role is as a community partner. “We provide a safe, clean environment for residents to shop and for some kids to maybe work here also,” he says. “We work with all the schools and local organizations in town for school sports, road races and golf tournaments by helping out with donations and having a presence.”
The store’s other departments complement Highland Park’s commitment to freshness and quality in produce. In addition to its produce offering, the store also provides a complete, old-fashioned, full-service meat counter that is fully staffed with friendly professionals to ensure customer satisfaction. The store purchases fresh fish weekly from a local, upscale, fresh fish purveyor.
In the bakery, the store tenders a wide variety of signature desserts created by in-store pastry chefs, as well as an assortment of breads, rolls and breakfast pastries baked fresh daily.
Highland Park also caters to convenience. It boasts a nationally recognized full-service deli carrying a variety of quality products. Customers can easily pick up one of the store’s famous HPM sandwiches or choose from a selection of Grab-n-Go meal items or sushi made in-store by sushi chefs.
Highland Park Market
317 Highland Street, Manchester, CT 06040
Hours: 8am – 7pm, Monday – Saturday; 8am – 6pm, Sunday