At a time when supermarkets are slashing budgets and trimming workforces, many produce directors are welcoming the contributions that field representatives from various commodity boards and suppliers make to their day-to-day operations.
Whether they're known as field representatives, promotion directors, regional marketing managers or by some other title, these are experts who can shake up a category or product line and energize produce workers and shoppers alike.
The three field representatives-or promotion directors-for the Eagle-based Idaho Potato Commission visit every retail chain of 25 stores or more-and some smaller chains on request-and attend all the trade shows to promote Idaho potatoes, says Seth Pemsler, vice president of retail/international at IPC.
They travel up to 40 weeks each year and have a wide range of responsibilities, including offering financial incentives to retailers who feature Idaho potatoes in their advertising, helping promote events such as Potato Lovers Month in February and assisting chains with internal display contests.
They conduct category assessments of each market area and suggest ways to increase profitability.
The representatives come armed with data from Nielsen and analyses from Market Track that study six months' worth of retail advertising and report on the number of advertisements in a market, quality, type and price points.
They also can help chains educate their new category managers or buyers.
All of the commission's field representatives have spent 20 years or more in a retail setting, Pemsler says.
They call on chains' headquarters at least twice a year and probably contact buyers or category managers at least once a month with worthwhile information about the potato category, he says.
The seven business development representatives who work for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group are similar to an outside sales force, says Audrey Desnoyers, business development manager.
"We meet with corporate heads who make decisions on displaying and promoting," she says.
They're responsible for preselling whatever is coming up for the company and giving advice on how to best sell Oppenheimer's products.
"We come with a toolkit to create demand," she adds.
The kit may include funds for advertising, in-store demos and samplings, point-of-sale materials and incentives for the stores' sales teams to push a particular item.
"Our job is to create the consumer pull - to create interest among consumers so that our products are the ones that are picked up off the shelf," Desnoyers says.
Like any good field representative, she leaves the cookie cutter out of her tool kit, so there's no need to fear that you'll be running the same program as your competitor across the street.
"We customize everything," she says. "We're going to have a lot of different things we can offer to accounts to really pinpoint their hot buttons and what they've found works best with their particular clientele."
Jeff Fairchild, produce director for the 13 Portland, Ore.-based New Seasons Market locations, especially enjoys interaction with representatives who provide preseason information "with programs attached and useful POS."
He says he generally prefers to work with supplier representatives than with people from commodity boards.
"I find it more useful to be talking to people who are also offering me the potential to buy products from their company," he says.
The field representatives he deals with from Oppenheimer, for example, "offer programs, point-of-sale materials and conduits to purchasing."
"You want to take away the obstacles that may prevent consumers from buying something," says Paul Kneeland, vice president of produce, floral, seafood and meat for the Parsippany, N.J.-based chain of 25 Kings Food Market stores and six Balducci's Food Lover's Markets.
All of the commodity board representatives Kneeland works with are potentially very helpful, he says.
"They have very valuable stuff," he says. "It all depends on how you use them."
Kneeland says he uses what pertains to his business.
"If you use the information strategically from a value standpoint, then it works," he says. "The benefits can be great."
Kings Food Market stores have more than 600 items in their produce departments, he says.
"We (appreciate) help anywhere we can get it - as long as it's within our strategy and guidelines," Kneeland says.