- Identify and establish relationships with produce distributors and prime/broadline distributors (distributors who provide a wide variety of food and non-food products) serving small stores in the area— IATP approached a produce distribution partner that served the retail sector in Minnesota to identify strategies worth exploring that would result in small stores receiving an ongoing supply of fresh produce. The produce distributor had relationships with two prime/broadline distributors (one regional and one national) who served small stores in Minnesota (and beyond).
- Build on existing relationships if produce or prime/broadline distributors are already known.
- Develop a distribution system that "connects the dots" in the supply chain
IATP, with the distributors, created a system that moved fresh produce from the produce distributor through the prime/broadline distributors' existing distribution system to participating stores around the state.
- Fruit and vegetable products were incorporated into the prime distributors' usual ordering system. This allowed small stores that are supplied by the two participating prime/broadline distributors to order the fresh produce through the same ordering and billing system that they were already using.
How it works:
- Small stores place their produce orders with the prime distributor (instead of a separate produce distributor), who supplies the majority of each store's products. The prime distributor then consolidates all small store produce orders and places a master order with the produce distributor. The produce distributor handles all of procurement and inventorying of the produce ordered by the small stores. The produce distributor packages each store's order and delivers all orders to the prime distributors' main distribution centers on a regularly scheduled basis (typically three to five days per week).
- Using the same refrigerated trucks and routing system they use for other products, the prime distributors deliver fresh produce, packaged per order, to the individual stores, typically on a weekly basis. The Supply Chain Model shown above is also included in the Intervention Materials section.
- Explore a "right-sized" program with the produce distributor — Recognizing the smaller footprint and lower product turn-over among small stores, the produce distributor developed a "right-sized" program that allows small stores to purchase small quantities (e.g. six oranges or avocados) that better meet their needs and avoid waste. Ultimately, more than 50 different "right-sized" products have been made available, including many culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables. A "right-sized" list of products and amounts is included in the Intervention Materials section.
- Develop and disseminate a retail promotion program — IATP partnered with the Minnesota Department of Health WIC Program to develop and disseminate a retail promotion program to advertise the availability of fresh produce and to promote an increase in sales. The retail promotion program included point-of-sale materials in four languages (English, Spanish, Somali and Hmong).
- In late 2009 and again in 2010, the promotional materials were mailed to all WIC-authorized stores with one or two cash registers. The Minnesota Department of Health WIC Program also made the materials available for free through their website and handled subsequent printing and fulfillment. The link to the promotional materials is included in the Intervention Materials section.
- Provide a user-friendly produce handling guide to small store owners — IATP also partnered with its produce distribution partner, H. Brooks & Company, to provide a user-friendly produce handling guide that was mailed to small WIC-authorized stores. The handling guide is included in the Intervention Materials section.
Keys to Success
- Create a system that "connects the dots" in the supply chain that is financially sustainable for all partners.
- Produce should be affordable, of high quality, and culturally appropriate.
- Produce suppliers have to be able to meet the WIC minimum stock requirements for year round fresh produce.
- Identify a produce distributor that is interested in exploring a new market and willing to develop a "right-sized" product line that is appropriate for smaller stores.
Barriers to Implementation
- Distributors — It may take a significant investment of time to identify produce and prime/broadline distributors who are interested in collaborating and revising the supply chain.
- Pricing — While this model leverages existing distribution infrastructure and thereby avoids the cost of duplicative trucking systems, for instance, the need to engage both a produce and a prime distributor will add cost to the product. Where big box retailers are within a reasonable driving distance, store owners may find that purchasing and re-selling highly discounted produce meets their needs.