Originally printed in the February 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Wholesaler: a person or company that sells goods in large quantities at low prices, typically to retailers. I think it’s time to update the dictionary, I’m not sure the definition of wholesaler has aged all that well.
Great wholesalers have become diverse operators offering unique service(s) wrapped around an extensive and evolving product offering. A desirable fresh produce wholesaler is a partner that is integrated into its customers’ business at multiple levels — delivering fresh quality products is only a small piece of the equation. At Indianapolis Fruit Company, we’re focused on how we can make our retailers better operators in parallel with selling them the best fresh produce, specialty foods and floral.
To impact someone’s business in a positive way, you first must understand it at a deep level. You need to understand their goals, their challenges, their competitors, their customers, their resources, their systems and, most importantly, their people. More than anything else, wholesalers need to invest time and energy into learning their customer. Learning your customer(s) is not a one-time discussion, it’s constant engagement with each other where communication is honest and transparent.
As we’ve engaged customers throughout the life of our distribution business, we’ve realized offering more than our product mix adds value for the customer and creates relevance for us. We’ve launched all types of unique services, tools, platforms, and other ideas — striking out on many. However, today there are five core nontraditional services that Indianapolis Fruit offers its retailers that drive their businesses forward.
Individualized promotional planning and execution. Competing is hard. It is our belief having a promotional program unique to “your” market or “your” consumer base leads to success.
Historically, wholesalers would offer the same deals to all customers, but today it’s important to individualize those offers. Our team at Indianapolis Fruit owns the ad planning process for many of our retailers. This process includes item selection, proprietary sourcing, retail pricing and grouping.
In some retail concepts, promotional items can make up a double-digit percentage of sales. When you win on promotions, you win across the department.
Foodservice expertise and access. As retail formats continue to evolve, we expect there to be a continued pressure to win at culinary. For example, through our sister company, Piazza Produce, and the entire FreshEdge Family, we are able to supply both retail and foodservice products to our retailers. We’ve also been able to create customized products for customers through foodservice relationships, such as customer spice blends and meat cuts. In a perfect world, grocery stores would have professional culinary talent leading their offering, but that is not reality. We’re able to be a resource for retailers that need culinary guidance on recipes, menu planning, costing and other components of an in-house program.
Private label fresh cut and value-added. We continue to see consumers gravitating toward a basket built on items that deliver “real value” for their lifestyle. These items often save time or eliminate steps. Consumers seeking value and convenience isn’t new, but our private label production program(s) allows retailers to stamp these offerings with their brand(s) and create a level of customer intimacy. Consumers begin developing a reliance on these items and private brand(s), bringing them back for repurchases and trial of additional offerings.
Our private label customers also lean on our rigorous food safety programs to ensure their consumers are receiving the safest and best-tasting products available in the marketplace.
Technology “bolt ons.” With technology continuing to be a differentiator for any operator, we feel it’s important to leverage our scale of retail partners to bring solutions to the table. We often offer these solutions at no additional cost through strategic partnerships with third party platforms and tools. Currently, we’re working with retailers on automated ordering, leveraging artificial intelligence and proprietary algorithms. These tools have supported our retailers in battling labor challenges, inventory risk and maximizing pricing opportunities.
Graphic design services. In a produce world where visuals and marketing are becoming increasingly more important, we believe high quality art and design can drive sales. Our professional graphic design team creates unique and impactful pieces for products and customers. Whether it’s digital art for social media, signage for the department, or recipe cards for consumers, our team works independently or at the direction of the customer.
Being a wholesaler has evolved. At first, that evolution was slow and tedious; it took many years for new iterations of wholesale to invent itself. These iterations were mainly driven by customers pushing their distribution partners to provide something or change their operation in a way that would benefit them.
Now, wholesale operations are evolving like the technology space — every day. The successful wholesalers of today work to bring services and solutions to their customers while continuing to execute on their core offering each and every day.