By Emily Ford
SALISBURY - Food Lion has launched a new initiative to put fresher fruits and veggies in grocery stores and help them last longer in your refrigerator.
Dubbed "Fresh from the Field," the strategy includes a double-your-money-back guarantee for any fruit or vegetable that's unsatisfactory, as well as in-store tips for storage and care of perishables at home.
"We have made a new commitment to fresh produce," Food Lion President Cathy Green Burns said. "We heard from our customers that they wanted fresher produce for their families."
The initiative covers everything from the way fruits and veggies are stacked in the warehouse to how they're transported and displayed in the grocery store, including signs planned for consumers on how to store and ripen each variety.
Tips will range from how to store asparagus (trim ends, place in one inch of water, cover tips with a plastic bag, refrigerate) to the best option for ripening bananas (place in a paper bag overnight).
Food Lion piloted the initiative in the Salisbury perishable distribution center, a sprawling facility on Harrison Road where nearly 600 employees work day and night receiving fresh fruits and veggies, storing them for 24 to 48 hours, then shipping them out to 321 stores across the region.
Food Lion launched Fresh from the Field last week in 581 stores, including those in the Raleigh, Roanoke and Charlotte areas.
The company did not divulge its investment in the project.
"The ultimate goal is to provide customers with a better assortment and fresher produce," said Mike Snavely, regional director of distribution for Delhaize America, Food Lion's parent company.
Salisbury has one of six Food Lion distribution centers in the Southeast. The other N.C. centers are in Dunn and Butner.
The centers now deliver fresh produce every day, meaning a quicker turnaround time for perishables in storage.
Stores served by the Salisbury warehouse receive fruits and veggies every other day, up from three times a week.
Employees in the warehouse have a new mantra of "time, temperature and touch" that mandates how long produce stays in the warehouse, how cold it's stored and how it's handled.
Snavely calls it a "new culture."
"We've always been mindful of these things, but we are taking it to a higher level of awareness," he said.
Employees in the store like the initiative because perishables arrive divided by temperature and category, streamlining the stocking process, Snavely said.
Produce stored at 34 degrees - like apples, grapes and pears - used to be comingled during transport with produce stored at 55 degrees - like potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.
Now, perishables are segregated by temperature at all times, which means better ripening, color and taste, Snavely said.
Tommy Wilkinson, distribution center manager in Salisbury, said he sees his role as a coach with the new initiative.
"I'm enabling people to handle produce correctly," Wilkinson said.
Warehouse workers have been excited about the focus on the importance of their jobs and what they can do for customers and the company's bottom line, Wilkinson said.
Under the initiative, the company has added a position called quality ambassador to oversee the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables.
It's too early too tell if Fresh from the Field has made a difference at the cash register, spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown said, but the company is "very pleased with the momentum in sales we are building with produce."
Food Lion's corporate headquarters are in Salisbury, where the company was founded in 1957 as Food Town.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.