Interview with Dan Fechte, Produce Category Manager for Schnuck Markets, Inc.
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
Supermarket dietitians certainly appreciate the opportunity to promote the produce department with its abundance of nutrient-rich products. Dan Fechte, Produce Manager for Schnuck Markets, Inc. shares insights about his accountabilities that ensure high quality, fresh produce is available for consumers and how RDs can help educate shoppers.
What are the key responsibilities of your function?
I am responsible for procurement of all items coming out of California. I am also responsible for creating new sales initiatives to increased movement and consumption of produce. I serve as a liaison between farmers, stores, and the merchandising team at our store support center.
I strongly believe that I have two equally important customers: our stores and our shoppers. My goal in serving each of these customers is the same: to provide what they want and need, when they want and need it.
What do retail RDs need to understand about your role to be an effective partner?
Obviously, my job is to sell and promote produce. An RD would certainly appreciate the opportunity to partner because there is no stronger department in terms of nutrition than the produce department. I think our goals are the same… to help customers eat more and enjoy more produce. The biggest opportunity is with items that are not so familiar. If we can help a customer understand how to select, store, prepare, and enjoy unusual produce items, it’s a win-win for sure.
What is a day-in-the-life like for you?
I start work around 5:30 AM by checking actual inventories. I walk the warehouse to check for freshness. I speak with growers about conditions, product pricing and quality. My job is to ensure replenishment of inventory so that the stores always get what they need for our customers. I also respond to questions and concerns throughout the day not only the suppliers but also our teammates and merchandisers in the supermarket.
What keeps you up at night?
My biggest concerns are any one of many potential hiccups that can happen anywhere along the way. There are so many factors that can affect timeliness and quality. Even before I took this job, I knew that getting a head of lettuce from California onto the store shelf anywhere in St. Louis wasn’t easy. It is amazing to consider how any one of a number of factors could impact our supply and its quality. Just a few examples are weather, picking delays, traffic, accidents, equipment malfunction, etc. Any small glitch can potentially affect our stores and ultimately our customers.
What are the top three skills needed to be successful in retail from your perspective?
We must listen, be open to change and have the ability to react and respond immediately.
What factors are most important to you in strategic partnerships? Are they different between internal and external partnerships?
Honesty, follow through, and integrity of communication. I want the real picture, good or bad. Integrity is a two-way street. I see no difference in the importance of these factors, regardless of the nature of the partnership.
What factors do you consider when determining if a product on the shelf is doing well? Should get more facings? Should be pulled from the assortment?
Gross profit %, sales, and shrink (how much we end up pitching and/or donating).
How do you differentiate between a fad and a trend when deciding on new products to carry or products to feature more prominently?
Fads are as important as trends but with fads you have to be ready to respond quickly and recognize opportunities… a fad can last a month or a year. You shouldn’t overreact but it’s just as critical not to underreact or fail to capitalize. Sometimes a fad just means you have to switch your emphasis and adjust your orders. A good example is the low carb fad several years back. The low carb movement killed potato sales at the time. The way to ride a fad is to recognize reality and not only adjust to the change in volume but look for other products to promote and sell instead.
What financials do you look at and use most frequently in your role?
We have weekly reports that show sales vs. last year on all items as well as by sales period and YTD (year to date). These reports help determine what to promote and when to promote.
What is your educational and work background?
I started in this business when I was in high school. I started as a bagger and since then have worked in all departments except meat. In produce specifically, I have worked as a clerk, produce manager, merchandiser and buyer. I am now in the role of a category manager.