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An interview with Longo’s produce buyer

Mimmo Franzone on the importance of working with growers, freshness and local produce

Mimmo Franzone- Longo's

Behind every grocery store known for produce is an excellent team of buyers. And one of the best grocery stores in produce is Longo Brothers, which operates more than 20 stores in the Toronto area.

Canadian Grocer contributor Grainne Burns recently talked with Mimmo Franzone (pictured), Longo’s director of produce and floral about the importance of buying right.

CG: What factors influence your daily buying decisions?

MF: Consumer needs, quality of product and finally, the growing region and producers. Even though a lot has changed in the industry in recent years, particularly in consumer tastes and demands, these factors have not, and should not, change in the future.

We always aim to source the freshest of produce from our growers, so these three factors underpin all of our buying decisions. Despite what some may think, price is not one of the primary issues and does not affect our buying decisions. Quality always comes before price.

CG: How do your buying processes change to meet new consumer demands and trends?

MF: Consumer tastes and trends change regularly, so we have to keep our fingers on the pulse of what is happening. For example, today there’s a big demand for kale and cauliflower, so we source the best variety of those products from our growers.

One of the biggest trends is the demand for fresh and quick meal solutions in a state of ready to cook, such as washed and ready cooking greens. We work closely with our growers to ensure that they are creating the best solutions for us, whether that is changing product format or packaging.

CG: What would stop you from buying a certain product?

MF: Subpar quality. As quality is the most important factor on how we procure, once the quality does not meet our high standards, we will choose to move to the next best growing region for the commodity or wait for the next best possible opportunity.

CG: What are the main obstacles affecting your buying objectives?

MF: Speed to market. It is very important for us to be first to react to trends and offer our customers the greatest food experience. But at our size, as an independent retail chain, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. If it’s a local producer, it takes about one to two days from ordering to on-shelf, and for produce from the U.S., it can take about five to six days.

We understand how important “fresh” is to our customers, so we react as quickly as possible. We also see a great opportunity for us to be a test outlet for growers developing new ideas. We are very nimble and can react to our partners’ needs, supporting them when it comes to product development and helping to execute their ideas to match our needs.

CG: How do you ensure you buy that next “hot” product?

MF: This comes down to the relationships that we have with all of our vendors, a majority of which we have been working closely with for many years. Through constant communication, we can ensure that they are growing the right product at the right time.

We also look at international trends, as it is often the case that it takes some time for those trends to hit Canada. We have a lot of worldwide working relationships, so that helps us stay on top of the trends and to plan ahead.

CG: How do buy-local initiatives affect your purchasing decisions?

MF: This focus may be hot right now but supporting the local community and growers has always been very important to us.

We focus on supporting local suppliers and growers during the summer and winter months, especially when it may be cheaper in some instances to source produce from other countries. We also encourage customers to think of their own buying decisions and how these can positively benefit their local community, such as our Taste Ontario local program.

Canadian Grocer spoke with Canada’s produce power players to learn how they stay ahead of the game. Read more Q&As with the country’s top produce experts below:

Category Management with Costco’s Oleen Smethurst here

Supplying with John Russell, President of J.E. Russell Produce Ltd here

Fortinos’ merchandising strategies with Sergio Mazzuca here

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