Originally printed in the November 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Bell peppers sit in an eye-catching stoplight display. Bagged sweet cherries overtake an entire endcap ready to grab impulse sales. Halved and overwrapped heads of green and napa cabbage placed side by side present shoppers with choices.
You wouldn’t think this bountiful assortment of fresh produce was located in grocery stores way out in the Atlantic Ocean. Specifically, some 650 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, NC, and 775 miles southeast of New York City. But it’s true.
Bermuda, an archipelago of seven main islands and some 170 smaller rocks, islets and cays, is home to The MarketPlace Ltd., an eight-store, family-owned chain that is the largest grocery retailer in this 20.5-square-mile British overseas territory. They also operate two big-box-type stores called PriceRite.
“We strive to have the best produce departments, not just on the island of Bermuda, but I want our departments to also be the best when compared to produce departments in the U.S.,” says Josue “Josh” Padilla, who took the produce director position last year after working in the New York City metro area for over 20 years, most recently as director of produce for Citarella, Bronx, NY.
“So, I strive to recruit, train, mentor, and retain the best people so that they can execute my personal produce philosophy. That is, to achieve produce excellence through great merchandising, great products and great people.”
The MarketPlace chain of stores was known to Bermudians as Piggly Wiggly from 1939 to 1981. In the early 1980s, a prominent local businessman and owner of another island grocery called Modern Mart bought the Piggly Wiggly business. He purchased another three grocers over the next dozen years and transformed the chain. Today, The MarketPlace Ltd., headquartered in the capital of Hamilton, are modern, well-stocked stores that offer a wide selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, plus have other fresh departments like deli and prepared foods, bakery, meat and seafood, dairy, and floral, as well as grocery and beverages.
Bermuda’s population is a little over 60,000, but the diversity is great, says Padilla.
“You have Bermudians that can trace their roots back to the island’s settlement in 1609, and a large influx of expats. Reinsurance and hospitality industries dominate the island’s economy, so there is a large American, Canadian, Filipino, Portuguese, Indian, Jamaican, Dominican and European population living here. We also sell to tourists who stay at Airbnbs or come aboard one of the four to five weekly cruise ships.”
Because of this diversity, the MarketPlace produce departments offer customers an elaborate selection of tropical fruits and roots, berries, grapes, potatoes, stone fruit, citrus, apples and vegetables, he explains.
“Most importantly, we can never be out of stock on our top two items: avocados and bananas. These are an important part of a Bermuda codfish breakfast, a dish prepared with boiled salted codfish, and is served with onions, tomatoes, boiled potatoes, ripe bananas, boiled eggs and slices of avocado.”
THE PRODUCE PROCESS
The MarketPlace imports most of its produce from suppliers in the U.S., which are in the New York metro area, and buys some items freight-on-board (FOB) from grower-shippers. Suppliers are Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)-compliant, taking care to track products and help maintain the cold chain from their facility to the dock and from the ship to the retailer’s warehouse. They notify Padilla of any recalls. The MarketPlace has a director of health and safety, who works alongside Padilla and produce managers to ensure the stores are following all food safety and health codes.
Most produce arrives by ship. There are weekly shipments that arrive from the U.S. on Mondays and Thursdays. Logistical challenges occur when maintenance on the boats reduces weekly shipments to one. The retailer will air freight highly perishable items or items that were out of stock on its regular ship delivery.
“Our suppliers do a great job helping us maintain shelf life on the produce they sell,” Padilla says. “We collaborate and share quality reports on items, so we can adjust our orders accordingly.
“Our suppliers pick our orders using the ‘Last in, First Out’ method instead of the industry standard ‘First in, First Out,’ so the product can sustain the four-day boat ride to Bermuda without compromising freshness and quality.”
The MarketPlace has also started its own cut fruit and vegetable program. “We envision this will not only help reduce shrink, but give customers value,” says Padilla.
The MarketPlace operates a central distribution center, where produce is sorted after being offloaded from the container ships. Then, it’s sent immediately to the stores. Each store’s produce manager determines what to order and stock from over 1,200 items, based on their store’s department space, customer demand, and product movement. They also have a recommended core list of items to carry, which routinely changes depending on new items or suggestions from produce team members.
Depending on the store, produce accounts for a significant amount of the store’s sales. Organics are carried in some stores, but not in all. Padilla believes there is a huge opportunity to grow organic sales, especially as the gap in organic and conventional pricing in general narrows.
GLOBAL & LOCAL
Padilla says the chain always wants to maintain 100% in-stock on hard/semi-goods, such as apples, potatoes, onions, citrus, squash and peppers, and stores are instructed to keep ahead on these items.
“To maintain freshness and quality, we also encourage stores to review movement reports of highly perishable items, such as berries, salads and leafy greens and encourage them to order just enough to get us through until the next delivery. Stores with an excess or shortage of product frequently communicate with each other so that product can be moved around from one location to another,” says Padilla.
To differentiate itself from its competitors, The MarketPlace is the first to market new or seasonal items.
“We are the trendsetters on the island. We push products that are at the peak of the season and have optimal taste,” says Padilla. “We go with larger sizes and request a specific level of brix from our vendors so that our customers can have the best eating experience.”
The MarketPlace also created a specialty program, where it procures and sells specialty items, such as fiddleheads, rhubarb, ramps and yellow watermelons, he says.
There is an active local agriculture sector in Bermuda. Bermudian farmers grow carrots, sweet potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. When specific locally grown fruits and vegetables are in season, there are temporary embargoes placed on the importation of competing produce to allow local farmers to sell their goods, says Padilla.
Additionally, where the Department of Environmental Protection employs tight restrictions on certain agricultural products to control/prevent the importation of harmful pests and diseases, local farmers bridge the gap by growing the produce that is supplied to The MarketPlace stores. In this way, the retailer works in tandem with local growers, and even the government, to keep its stores supplied with fresh produce.
What is advertised at The MarketPlace is based on seasonality and availability from both the U.S. and local growers. For example, apples in the fall, citrus in the winter and stone fruit during the summer. Ads are biweekly and are advertised through social media and email blasts.
The retailer’s communications manager is responsible for the company’s social media marketing, advertising and social engagement. He has been a great asset to helping promote produce, says Padilla. “He was integral in promoting our first ever 99-cent Hass Avocado Super Bowl sale through social media.”
Padilla says up next for him is upgrading store fixtures and installing air flow into the refrigerated cases to increase selection and shelf life. He plans to convert the current produce table displays into field bins, which will open the line of sight, as well as enhance the shopability of the produce departments.
“When presented with the opportunity, I thought it would be exciting to run produce departments while living on a tropical island. Easy access to beaches, fishing, snorkeling, great weather, golf, and the people were huge top sellers for me,” he says.
“Since I’ve been working in Bermuda, I’ve learned to adapt to a different culture and to understand and adapt to a new regulatory and business environment,” he adds. “Most importantly, I had to learn to make some of my mom’s home-cooked recipes since I’m now too far away to pass by and raid her refrigerator like when I lived in New York.”
The MarketPlace LTD.
Corporate Office: 42 Church St., Hamilton, Bermuda
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tel: +1 441-292-3163