Venue For Sharing Vision And Transparency

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the October 2019 issue of Produce Business.

As we prepare for the industry’s largest gathering, an opportunity presents itself to take advantage of this large meeting of produce industry experts to improve your overall operation and gather additional information to take it to the next level.

The PMA Fresh Summit in Anaheim, CA, offers the opportunity to have meaningful discussions with all segment representatives of the industry that affect your retail business. Engaging such discussions and learning as much as possible in educational sessions and in trade-floor conversations could give you a clearer vision of what you need to do to upgrade your overall operation. These types of discussions involve sharing information, which leads to greater transparency throughout the supply chain. Generally speaking, upper retail management does not condone these types of information-sharing meetings because traditionally retail has been slow in recognizing the benefits of removing some of the “mystique” out of the retail operation and sharing it with other parts of the industry. This resistance by management further shows, “They just don’t get it!”

Taking advantage of the opportunity to have face-to-face, relevant discussions with your partners is something that every operation should participate in. Make it a point to schedule enough time for meetings during the convention with your partners to discuss all meaningful aspects of their operation as well as yours. The key to success in these meetings is a willingness by all parties to share information (some of which may seem to be proprietary) about their operation and any plans to improve the levels of performance and service to their partners.

In the past, these types of meetings have been one-sided with vendors and suppliers providing opportunities and sharing new procedures and strategies to assist the retailer’s operation. On the flip side, retailers have always been reluctant to share many details with suppliers and vendors about their operation. The time has come for this reluctance to end. Instead, there should be open dialogue that shares details of a retailer’s operation. This transparency will allow your partners to see what they can do, individually or collectively, to help improve the operation.

Posturing or citing ‘company policy’ that prohibits revealing the inner workings of retail operations to your partners is an excuse to not engage in meaningful dialogue.

With technological advances occurring at such a rapid rate, there are no real “secrets” in the produce industry. With the industry embracing these technological advances, transparency is becoming more and more prevalent throughout the supply chain. Anything previously considered ‘secret,’ ‘innovative,’ or ‘company-specific’ has a very short life today as imitation and duplication occurs at such a rapid rate these advantages are very short-lived. Hiding behind the secretive mask retailers have used for years no longer has any place in the modern marketplace. Posturing or citing ‘company policy’ that prohibits revealing the inner workings of retail operations to your partners is an excuse to not engage in meaningful dialogue. In the ‘old days,’ we used to say: ‘It is not necessary to explain retail to them. They wouldn’t understand.’ Everyone in today’s supply chain is working toward the same end — providing consumers with the best quality, safest, cleanest and most cost-efficient supply of fresh produce possible.

Some progressive retailers have already adopted this approach and are reaping the benefits of a smoother running, streamlined and protected supply chain. By adopting this new strategy, the entire industry benefits.

Once this type of open communication is achieved, the path to innovation, growth and improved sales and profits for each member of the chain is realized. Each entity in the chain would work even harder to provide more information and services to drive their customers forward. This would lift the whole industry to a new level of expertise and execution.

It would behoove any retailer who wants to move his operation forward to arrange a series of these types of meetings with your suppliers during the upcoming Fresh Summit exposition. If there’s not enough time during PMA, make it a point to set up follow-up meetings after the convention. Given the history of retailers’ participation in such discussions, this new approach would come as a pleasant surprise to your partners. It would likewise make their meeting with you far more important and vital to their company success.

If this becomes common practice, we will all become united in the goal of developing an industry with the strength to overcome the challenges of our ever-changing marketplace.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to