Tales of the Seasons

Whole Foods Avocados

Our Mystery shoppers test the local and seasonal knowledge of produce employees and evaluate their shopping experiences with different retailers.

Providing Produce Business readers with anecdotal reportage about what goes on in produce departments nationwide is something we take very seriously, and quite frankly, a cover story we never tire of reporting.

Giving the piece a new angle for 2016, we asked our veteran team of journalists to scout out produce departments armed with questions about local and seasonal topics. We selected produce items that would vary in seasonal availability: sweet onions, grapes, avocados, berries and stone fruit.

We asked reporters to investigate the knowledge and helpfulness of employees, as well as make general observations about in-store signage and store inventory.

Our aim with these reports is to recreate for readers the one-on-one interaction between our writers and produce personnel inside each retailer.

There is a lot to learn from these reports such as business intelligence that can be applied to training and evaluating employees as well as improving operations. While we are not identifying the stores, and the employees’ names are changed in an effort to protect the innocent, we are not only delving into what retailers want to know, but also what they need to know.

West Coast Store 1: Artfully Local

Pathmark Bus TourI visited an upscale, small, regional chain in a Northern California university town. As I approached the entrance, there was a rare cornucopia of fruits and vegetables on display outside the store.

The oranges, D’Anjou pears and Sumo citrus were next to the displays of mini sweet and Shishito peppers, and the Hass avocados. One-gallon bottles of apple juice were stacked high, next to three different varieties of winter squash. Cauliflower, asparagus, Murcott and Minneola tangerines, yams, and three varieties of berries (black, blue and raspberry) share a wall.

Surprisingly, this bounty is left outside every night, unguarded and unlocked, and no one steals it. This is a university town; almost everyone is associated with the school or moved here because the public schools are as good as it gets, and people just don’t steal from this treasured store.

The produce display, which was large and artfully laid out, was at the entrance of the store. In the dead of winter, the stone fruit pickings were mighty slim. There were apricots that felt soft enough to eat, but did not have an inviting aroma. The nearby nectarines were like a rock.

I approach a young man loading apples onto the display and asked if the apricots, labeled as from Chile, are any good. “It’s not really the season for stone fruit,” he said candidly. “They are a little less flavorful than in the summer. In late April or early May, we get the local apricots, and they are definitely more flavorful.”

When I asked what the store considered “local,” he said within 100 miles, and pointed to the large sign hanging from the ceiling featuring a map including the numerous agricultural towns that were within that distance of the store.

He assured me the fruit from faraway Chile should be safe to eat, but had no knowledge of whether it would be as nutritious as the late spring harvest from local orchards.

There were four displays of avocados, including the one outside the store, so I asked which was the best fruit.

“The ones on the table are the same as the ones outside,” he said, reducing my choice to three. “If you get a good one, the organic might be a little better tasting. Avocados aren’t really in season now. It’s not really peak flavor, but it should be pretty good, closer than the apricots or nectarines.”

I headed to the checkout stand, where my wait was short, with my not-quite-aromatic apricots and a small handful of promising organic avocados. There were plenty of employees around to ask for help and they generally seemed approachable — this store routinely wins awards as among the Top 100 employers in the country.

The Verdict

The prices were definitely higher than at the mainstream supermarkets in town, but noticeably lower than at the well-known national upscale organic and natural food chain a couple miles down the road. For the money, customers get a rare consistency in variety, quality and service. The young man’s advice was close to the mark as the apricots proved to be so dry, mealy and flavorless as to be inedible, while the avocados were delicious, despite him saying they were not in season.

West Coast Store 2: Too Busy to Help

There was no produce outside this franchise of a slightly upscale national chain, just concrete and shopping carts, but an abundance of floral was just inside the front entrance. First there was a cleverly arranged display of a dozen cut flower varieties, each in its own shiny metal bucket. To the right was the wall of flowers, dozens of flowers, most of them fresh-cut, a few living in soil. All of them looked quite ready for floral party time at the market.

“This looks so cheery,” I hear a young woman say to her companion as I ventured a few steps closer into the produce department. At the entry to produce was a display of “heirloom” Navel oranges, with the name of the farm on the sign, but nothing about where that farm might be. To the left was a display of Gala apples, and a third of avocados ranging from rock hard to mushy all thrown together in the same pile. All three displays were stacked on waist-high wooden boxes on casters. Tastefully retro.

No one was working in the produce department as I shopped. The checkout lines stretched far back from the registers that Saturday afternoon and were enough to keep the entire staff busy.

First I headed for the apricots. These were from Chile, they looked a little green and they had no aroma. Remembering my recent experience with apricots, I passed. I also decided not to take a flier on the Chilean red grapes, which, though they looked all right through their clamshell, had no aroma.

The berries looked quite a bit more enticing. I chose some local organic raspberries with a familiar brand and a reasonable price. Next to them were small clamshells of blackberries from Mexico that looked and felt inviting. I took a bite.

When I saw a second, better-looking display of avocados from Mexico, I remembered my good luck at the previous store, and put a small bag in my cart.

Finally someone from the store showed up in the produce department. It was a young woman who was picking up a clamshell salad that spilled onto the floor at least 15 minutes ago — since I’ve been there that long. She was not wearing sanitary gloves.

The salad was one among a variety of interesting and nutritious offerings that were beside the wraps and microwaveable entrees next to produce. On the other wall facing produce was a nice display of bagged fresh-cut spinach, Spring Mix, herb salad, kale and arugula, which was next to all sorts of value-added, cut vegetables and fruit. Further down this wall was another fine selection of cheese, some sliced and some relatively premium at reasonable prices. As I finished with my cheese and dry goods, I saw the young lady who cleaned the salad mess off the floor helping an elderly customer find groceries, and even putting a few items into the cart. Did she even have time to wash her hands after the salad caper? It was, as I said, a very busy day at this store.

The Verdict

People shop here for the interesting and reasonably priced value-added items that line the walls bordering produce, which seems like an afterthought.

Northeast Store 1: Half-Hearted Help

I visited an independent co-op grocer on a busy weekday morning, filled with retiree customers. The 850-square-foot department was clean and well lit Vidalia Sweets— though a bit dated. The department advertised Eastern apples, Florida oranges and a small display of locally grown greenhouse basil.

I browsed the department before finally spotting an employee, hidden behind a mobile rack and restocking lettuce. I approached him.

“Do you have any local fruit in stock? I was hoping to buy some local berries or grapes,” I asked.

He looked at me as if I’d just arrived from outer space and replied, “There’s nothing local this time of year.”

“Oh,” I persisted. “Well what about just grown in the U.S.”

He stepped out from behind the cart and motioned for me to follow.

“The grapes might be from California. Let’s see,” he said.

I followed him, explaining, “I wanted local because I read online that local means more flavorful.”

He looked at me as if I’d just arrived from outer space and replied, “There’s nothing local this time of year.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” he countered. “There are a lot of things that go into getting good produce, mostly seasonality. Here are the grapes.”

After perusing the label, he reported, “They’re from Peru.”

“Oh, Peru!” I winced. “Are they any good? Are they safe?”

“Of course,” he assured me. “We won’t carry something that isn’t safe. I ate some yesterday. They’re good.”

I redirected him to the berries and stone fruit, “Are there any U.S. berries or nectarines here?”

He shook his head, informing me, “Not really. It’s just not the season. Wait another month or two, and we’ll have imported fruit. We have a few packs of berries, but they’re not very good. This is just not a good season for those products.”

He then promptly turned and retreated to restocking. I followed him, interrupting, “I need some avocados for guacamole. Are there U.S. avocados?”

He pointed me to the avocado display about 5 feet from where he was working, seemingly unwilling to come out from behind the rack again. “They’re right there, but I don’t think you’re going to find any ripe ones,” he advised. “They’re all from Mexico. They won’t be ripe for a few days.”

Spying a display of Spanish onions right next to the avocados, I said, “I need onions for the guacamole too. Are these sweet? A friend suggested using sweet onions in guac.”

“No,” he sighed. “The sweets are Vidalia’s. They’re in the back of the department.”

He then proceeded to explain how the mildness of the sweets and Spanish differ, but I didn’t really understand his confusing explanation. “Can you help me find the sweets?” I asked. He then emerged from his safe-haven and led me to the onions.

“Where are they from?” I queried. “Peru,” he replied.

“Oh, Peru again,” I stated. “I thought all sweet onions were from Georgia.”

“Well, these are the sweets,” he reaffirmed and then retreated back to his work.

The Verdict

While the employee started off very friendly, it was obvious he became uncomfortable with my continuous questions. He failed to direct me to potential other fruits that would be considered regional or at least domestic. Whether it was because he was concerned about his restocking or he just ran out of answers remains to be determined. Either way, the experience did not help encourage me as a shopper.

Northeast Store 2: Don’t Shout

Marianos Fresh MarketI visited a large regional chain on a busy Sunday afternoon. The store was filled with families and couples. The 600-square-foot department was bright, clean and well organized with three employees restocking displays. There was no advertisement at all for local or regional produce.

I approached an employee at the wet-rack and asked, “Do you have any local or regional fruit such as berries or peaches?”

Laughing, he replied, “You’re not going to get anything close at this time of year. Everything is from South America, because it’s summer down there.”

“Oh,” I sighed. “It really comes from that far? Is it safe? I usually only like U.S. produce.”

“Sure, it’s safe,” he said cheerily. “The South American fruit is good and flavorful, although I’d stay away from the peaches right now. They’re not good flavor-wise.”

“When will you have better peaches?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” he shrugged. “We don’t buy the stuff. We just put out what our distribution center sends us.”

“What about grapes?” I asked. “Doesn’t California produce grapes?”

“Yes,” he replied. “But, not now. The grapes right now are probably from Chile. It will say on the label. Remember, it’s summer in South America so they have a good growing climate.”

Seemingly satisfied with his attention to me, he returned to his restocking. I eyed a large avocado display, and prodded him again.

“What about those avocados,” I questioned. “Are they from California?”

“Probably Mexico,” he answered.

“Don’t they use bad pesticides there?” I asked. “I saw a report on TV that they use stuff not allowed here in the U.S.”

He paused and then shouted across the department, “Hey Ed, are the avocados from Mexico safe?” The guy closer to the avocado display looked up at first a bit stunned, then replied. “Sure, I guess so. We wouldn’t carry them if they weren’t safe.”

The employee I was talking to then added, “There are pretty rigorous import regulations, so all of it should be safe.”

The Verdict

This employee was open and friendly, and I was encouraged as far as his knowledge and explanation of the South American summer. But, his assurances and explanation of the safety of the product fell a bit short. Yelling about the safety of a product to the other employee could have negatively affected other shoppers — not too professional in my book.

Northeast Store 3: Bright and Energetic

On a late weekday morning, I visited the produce department of a popular chain store. Upon walking into the store, I walked right into the 100-foot byWhole Foods Bus Tour 50-foot large produce department. The area was well lit, open and very bright with neatly displayed produce. I felt like I was walking through a farmers market.

He paused and then shouted across the department, “Hey Ed, are the avocados from Mexico safe?”

I heard sounds of chopping from behind a fresh fruit counter with an energetic and a visibly happy staff working. I took a few steps toward the grapes and the smell of luscious citrus floated past. What a nice way to begin any shopping experience.

The department was bustling with a few older women and several young mothers with babies suspended from their Bjorn carriers. Signage was easily seen. The origin of the produce was located right beside the price, making it exceptionally easy to spot.

I walked around for a few minutes taking in this enormous area before I approached an older gentleman who was stocking bananas. I asked him if he could help me with some questions I had. He happily said, “Sure.”

I asked if there was any local produce right now I could buy.

“There is nothing really local right now. When we do have local produce in season, our shoppers know it. They know the town it’s from right down to the farm it came from.”

I asked if the grapes were from California.

“I believe they are from Peru right now.”

This led me to the opportunity to ask the gentleman the question, “How safe is produce from other countries?”

“Our produce is very safe. We inspect every box of produce that comes through our doors.”

He proceeded to explain how last week, he opened a box of bananas and there were little brown spots all over them. “It was not up to our standards for our produce, so I had to throw them out,” he said. “I ended up throwing out three boxes of bananas that day last week. If the produce is not up to our standards, and it is not something I would eat, it is not sold. Our store owners have only the highest standards when it comes to putting produce out for people to buy.”

I asked if they had peaches and plums, but he replied they didn’t really have much and pointed me to an area with just a handful of peaches and no plums.

“Our produce is very safe. We inspect every box of produce that comes through our doors.”

Pressing on, I questioned where the sweet onions were located. He pointed me in the direction. I then quizzed what they tasted like. I mentioned how I liked the taste of the Vidalia onion, and I would like something similar to that.

“Right now is not the time for a Vidalia onion, they aren’t in season, so you won’t find any of those.”

I asked if the sweet onion’s taste was overpowering, and he said I should be happy with the sweet onions.

The Verdict

My overall experience was very good. For the size of the department, it was easily navigable, organized, and every piece of produce looked like it had been carefully placed on display. The produce worker was patient with my questions, appeared happy to help and seemed knowledgeable about his produce.

Northeast Store 4: Looks Can Be Deceiving

On an early Friday morning, I visited an upscale chain noted for its fresh focus. Upon entering the store, I walked through the small floral area right into the produce department, which spanned about 50 feet by 30 feet. It appeared clean and well kept, yet it was not very bright.

Other shoppers in the department consisted of three middle-aged women and two middle-aged men. A young gentleman was working in produce, appearing very friendly, joking with some shoppers. As I made my way toward him, another young gentleman walked over and asked if he could help me.

I began our conversation by stating this was my first time at the store and I needed sweet onions, but I was not sure where they were. I also asked if there was a difference in taste compared to all the other onions.

“There really isn’t much difference with the onions in their taste, a lot of people choose the yellow onion.” He pointed me in the direction of the onion display and said there were a lot I could pick from.

I continued by asking him if they had avocados from California.

“Our avocados are from Mexico right now.”

This led me to ask how safe it was, coming from a different country.

“They are safe … [and paused a little] as safe as any other produce. If you’re worried about pesticides, I suggest organic. Organic is definitely the safest way to go when it comes to produce. It’s all about what you put in your body and it keeps you healthy. If you’re healthy you have less trips to the doctor. I only buy organic for my family.”

The gentleman explained to me that prices are higher for most organic produce, but it is worth it. “The only downfall with organic is that it doesn’t last long once you get it home, because it hasn’t been treated by anything.”

I commented on how nice everything looked and asked how often they get shipments. He said about every other day they get new produce in and are constantly restocking. I asked if anything was considered local at this time.

“Not much, the grapes are from California, and I believe some onions and maybe some apples too, but most everything else is from Mexico or Latin America. We have a lot of local produce in the summertime because it’s easier to get, and we make sure we display it well — but right now it’s hard to get local produce.”

I made my way over to the grape display to see how the grapes from California looked. The nicely designed sign under the grapes read, “Product of U.S.A,” alongside their price. I picked up a bag of grapes to look at, and “Product of Chile” was printed on it. Upon looking at all of the other bags of grapes, they all said, “Product of Chile.” Oops.

As I shopped further, I noticed a chalkboard sign below the strawberries labeled, “Product of U.S.A.” There was no specification as to where the strawberries were from, but they were in an attractive display near other berries. Of note, three days after the date of purchase, the strawberries stayed fresh looking and tasted sweet and juicy. Wherever the strawberries were from in the U.S. were good product.

The Verdict

The employee approached me again as I was leaving the produce area and asked if I needed anything else and began pointing out other products the store offered. Obviously, he was proud of his store and eager to help customers. Unfortunately there is a resonating theme throughout the produce department consisting of unidentified origin of produce; which then trickles down to the employee misunderstanding and misinterpreting information to the consumer.

Midwest Store 1: The Hallmark of Produce

California StrawberriesI visited this national chain, where natural meats, fresh seafood, organic, specialty foods, and healthy meals prepared on site surround the centerpiece of the store, which is the produce department. The store is located in a Midwestern suburb within a strip mall and is smaller than a traditional supermarket at approximately 20,000 square feet.

Walking into the produce department, mid-morning on a weekday, there was a smattering of customers looking through the various produce displays. These were mainly scattered throughout the department, with only a few refrigerated areas around the perimeter. The produce department was very clean, organized and well lit. Displays were full and looked appealing. Standing signs outside the store gave me a heads up on today’s sales, which included blueberries.

“The only downfall with organic is that it doesn’t last long once you get it home, because it hasn’t been treated by anything.”

When entering this section, it is immediately clear that fruits and vegetables are the hallmark of this retailer’s offerings. Produce was piled high, with the vibrant colors as the focus, as opposed to flashy signage or fancy displays. Signage also was simple, yet clear, with pricing and specials designated above each display.

I noticed a couple produce department employees milling about, and approached one younger gentleman who was working on a kale display in the refrigerated section. I grabbed a sweet onion from a nearby bin.

“Do you know if this onion is a locally grown product?” I asked.

He answered that he wasn’t sure and would go ask someone. He came back a couple minutes later to inform me that the store’s signage also included the produce’s origin, and pointed to a nearby sign to clarify. I then noticed in smaller lettering at the corner of the signs different countries, such as Chile, USA and Mexico.

I asked if the store carried any local product from the immediate region, and he went to check with his superior again, and he returned to say they didn’t have that specific information available for their products.

While he was gone, I grabbed a container of blueberries, which the packaging said originated from Chile. I asked the employee if he thought product from Chile was safe, and he said it definitely was and it was not unusual to source products from other countries during the off season. I inquired whether blueberries were in season now, and he said he didn’t think so.

The Verdict

I thought it a bit strange that, with the emphasis on locally-grown and sourced product, a store like this that focuses on natural, organic, specialty items with minimal ingredients woulnot take advantage of the opportunities of local products. I also was not overly impressed with the produce employee’s knowledge of the store’s fruits and vegetables. The fact that he didn’t know the products’ origins were already listed on the signs or that there were no products designated as local in the department demonstrated his training was less than adequate in terms of product knowledge.

Midwest Store 2: The Wizard of Produce

I popped into this local Midwestern chain that is situated in a strip mall on a busy thoroughfare in a suburban bedroom community. It is one of the Pepperssmaller sites that this store has, totaling approximately 15,000 square feet. As such, the produce department is not as extensive as at the chain’s other stores, but still includes a good mix of conventional and organic produce, in addition to value-added fruit and vegetable items.

As I entered the store, the produce department was in the front and on the left side of the store and adjacent to both the deli and bakery. In looking at the overall space, all three departments were laid out as one single department, as there were no noticeable barriers, signage or merchandising distinguishing the three areas.

Although there were not as many free-standing displays as in the chain’s larger stores, the fruit in the front was plentiful and seemed to take up more space than the vegetables in the back. There also was a small cooler section with packaged product, such as salads, pre-cut fruit and vegetables and platters.

In looking around, the produce department was well organized, abundantly stocked with clear signage and decent lighting. There were only a couple shoppers milling about, even though it was lunchtime on a weekday.

I also was not overly impressed with the produce employee’s knowledge of the store’s fruits and vegetables.

The only store employee I noticed was by the deli case, arranging some prepackaged salads and sandwiches. I approached her and said I was looking for local produce, and asked if she knew if the nectarines were local. She answered that she didn’t work with the produce department, but would ask someone.

She walked to a nearby phone and tried to contact a produce department employee. When she was unsuccessful, she said she would find someone from the department to ask.

She disappeared for a couple of minutes, then came back and said that the nectarines were from Chile and New Zealand. I asked if there were any locally-grown products in the department, and she said there were not, that it was the off season.

I then inquired if she knew whether the avocados and grapes were currently in season, and she said she did not and didn’t offer to find out for me. She then walked away to continue cleaning and organizing the standalone deli case, which was oddly placed in the middle of the produce department.

The Verdict

I was a bit disappointed at the service I received at this well-known and popular supermarket chain. Rather than find me an educated produce department staff member, the woman working the deli department instead relayed information from someone unseen. She also didn’t go out of her way to answer my other questions regarding what fruits were local, provide insight on alternatives or direct me to products that were more in line with what I was looking for. I would have been better served speaking directly with produce department personnel, but no one was made available to me.

Southeast Store 1: Ahoy, Matey!

After finding a parking space in this small, crowded lot, I was pleasantly surprised to enter the store and find ample room to shop. Typically this retailerWhole Foods Signage is all abuzz as people frantically squeeze through aisles and clear the shelves of quirky-named private label products that have garnered a cult following.

Orchids and colorful tulips in simplistic yet versatile pots lead the way into the small produce department. Organic avocados from Mexico were promoted front-and-center along with California stem-and-leaf Mandarins. I looked around to find the nearest associate, but surprisingly on a Wednesday at 2 p.m., there were no “crew” members in sight.

I also wish the store’s buyers would incorporate more local items. We are in a state that can accommodate it, so it’s feasible.

As I wander a little longer, I took stock of the stone fruit — only Yellow Punnet (Honey Glaze) nectarines from Chile could be found. I spotted a crew member behind the demo station situated in the back of the produce department.

“Excuse me, are the nectarines the only stone fruit you have right now?” I asked.

“Yes, I believe so,” said the young female staffer.

“When will more be coming in, like peaches and plums?”

“I think that’s more of a summertime item — closer to June or July,” she said.

Before I could ask another question, a customer interrupted to grab a sample of the organic roasted vegetable pizza being demonstrated.

I took my basket filled with two organic avocados for 99 cents each, a 3-pound clamshell of Mandarins for $3.99, and 1-pound of netted nectarines for $3.99 and surveyed the décor and signage. Every item was labeled clearly with handwritten interesting information in addition to the name and price of an item. Most labels mentioned: how the fruit or vegetable could be used in a recipe; the item’s flavor profile; and what to pair with the item via beverages, desserts or meals.

There was even a huge hand-drawn chart called the Apple Meter Chart, which rated the sweetness or tartness of each apple variety on a vertical axis and how best to use each variety (fresh, salad, cooking or baking) on a horizontal axis.

As I approached the checkout counter, I asked the cashier if the store ever carried any produce from local farms. She replied a simple no as she quickly set up one paper bag inside another.

Unsatisfied with that answer, once I got into the car, I called the same store and asked the crew member who answered the phone the same question. He had a more specific answer.

“Yes, we do carry regional items from time to time, but those decisions are made by our buyers at our home office. Typically we’ll get cucumbers, tomatoes and mangos from local South Florida vendors.”

The Verdict

I typically love this retailer, but don’t usually go to this location, which is in an affluent area and has a more mature-aged clientele. I was surprised with the lack of employees on the sales floor and the basic responses I received from those people on the floor. The gentleman on the phone was very accommodating and willing to thoroughly answer my questions. I also wish the store’s buyers would incorporate more local items. We are in a state that can accommodate it, so it’s feasible. I still appreciate the product selection and prices, so I will continue to shop at my regular location, which also has helpful and friendly crew members.

Southeast Store 2: Top-Shelf Shopping

I passed a gentleman sipping a fresh espresso outside this retailer known for accommodating a bougie clientele. As the doors slid open, a gust of prepared foods wafted through the store.

A table was positioned to the right of the entrance. It displayed an array of news items, cooking magazines, fliers, and local periodicals. One brochure offered the retailer’s guide to wine and food pairings. The monthly catalog showcased a spread of meals for the Super Bowl, weekly/daily sale items, and biographical-style information about ingredients.

There was a great flier promoting a meal deal. It boasted ingredients from every department of the store where you could essentially taste “food from Morton Williams Bus Touraround the world in four meals.” For $20, all the ingredients make one big meal to feed a family of four. You can follow the specified recipe for that week’s meal, or the retailer can provide additional suggestions for ingredient usage. There was also a sign explaining that due to inclement weather, western-grown vegetables were low in stock. The list consisted of spinach, lettuce, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, berries, and herbs. I asked the nearest associate if I had missed a news event, or if the sign referred to the drought in California?

“It may be referring to the drought or the winter weather up North and in the Midwest. I think we had shipment delays,” the employee said uncertainly.

The wet rack and shelves were still beautifully stocked and made great use of the space so as not to appear overly cluttered. The lighting reminded me of a romantic restaurant or museum where soft lighting shines on each individual display.

As much as I love the aesthetic of shopping in this store and the classical music, the prices are pricey.

As much as I love the aesthetic of shopping in this store and the classical music, the prices are pricey. The Interrupcion Fair Trade organic blueberries were $3.99 for a 6-ounce clamshell. Strawberries from Tom Lange’s Seven Seas Berry Sales and Rincon Fresh were $5.99 for each 16-ounce clamshell. Driscoll’s blackberries in a 12-ounce clamshell were $4.99 each. Calavo Hass avocados from Mexico were 2 for $3. Red plums from Chile were $3.99 a pound.

I did find some tropical items such as coconuts from the Dominican Republic selling for $2.99 each and papayas from Brazil were $3.99 each.

An employee passed me on the way to unboxing product and asked if I was finding everything okay.

“I see from the signage that there is a lot of produce from Chile, Peru, Mexico … does the store have a section dedicated to local or are items mixed in?” I asked.

“Local produce is typically mixed in, but we get very few items on a regular basis,” said the employee.

“Okay, and how about stone fruit? I see you have some plums over there, but when is the best time for stone fruit?” “In the summer we have more stone fruit, and it tastes much better then as well,” said the employee. The black plums were huge and delicious-looking, so I picked up two for a total of $3.39.

The Verdict

I was shocked that there was so much info and sales collateral upon entering the store. I loved that this upscale retailer offered discounted items and proudly promoted them. I always appreciate the dynamic and organized displays of this retailer. Produce is always neatly merchandised and clean.