If heaven for you is lush purple plum mountains, hills of orange, green, red and yellow peppers, and paths pebbled with ruby radishes, you probably judge your supermarket on the quality of its fruits and veggies.

You're not alone. Good-quality produce, along with a wide variety and low prices, are among the factors that Consumer Reports readers consider most important when choosing a particular grocer, according to our recent survey

For those reasons, supermarkets give their fresh produce departments particular prominence, placing them near the front, where shoppers enter the store. A well-managed produce section can be very profitable, experts say.

To inspire shoppers, many stores use machines that spray a fine mist and even employ theatrical spotlights to show their bounty at its best.

"Those oranges, rutabagas, and eggplants will look better in the store than they ever will in your kitchen," says Paco Underhill, chief executive officer of Envirosell, a New York City-based research and consulting firm focused on consumer behavior.

Wegmans Is Tops for Fresh Produce

For produce lovers living near a Wegmans supermarket, heaven is a little closer than it is for the rest of us. The East Coast family-owned grocer, with stores from Massachusetts to Virginia, was the only store in our recent supermarket and grocery store ratings (available to subscribers) to score top marks in the categories of produce quality, produce quantity, and quantity of local produce. 

"Wegmans produce is the freshest in town, and the selection is huge," says Barbara Goldenberg of Frederick, Md., of her local store.

What makes Wegmans veggies superior? For one, it turns over its produce—that is, sells or moves out the old stuff and brings in the new—about 150 to 200 times per year, explains Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the Strategic Resource Group, a consumer industry consulting firm based in New York City. Competing grocers turn over their produce only 35 to 45 times per year, he notes.

The company also has a strong network of local sources, even in colder northern areas. "They're the leaders working with hydroponic, natural, and organic greenhouse produce growers," Flickinger says. "Whether the temperature is 92 degrees or 9 degrees below zero, their produce is typically local."

Only Dierbergs, a Missouri-based supermarket chain, came close to Wegmans. It garnered top marks for the quantity of local produce it sells. The family-owned store shows a photo gallery of local partner farms on its website.

"They know there is interest in locally grown foods," explains James Fisher, a professor of marketing at the John Cook School of Business at Saint Louis University. "They understand the local market and adapt to expectations."

At the other end of the produce parade are Target Supercenter and Walmart Supercenter. Both scored lowest for the quality and quantity of the produce they sell as well as the variety they offer.

Other grocers at the bottom of the list include Tops Friendly Markets, with stores in Massachusetts, New York, northern Pennsylvania and Vermont, and Food Lion, with stores in the Southeast.

The good news for most consumers is that the number of places they can shop for fresh produce is growing. You can find high-quality fruits and veggies at farmers markets, health-food stores, specialty markets, and even online grocers.

Each month, 68 percent of Americans shop at five or more types of food retailers, according to the Hartman Group, a food and beverage industry consulting company in Bellevue, Wash.

With that kind of competition, retailers will continue to shine a spotlight on the veggies they sell. And food retailers will remain committed to offering shoppers what they deem important, such as sustainably and locally farmed foods, according to David Fikes, vice president of communications and consumer/community affairs for the Food Marketing Institute, a grocery industry group. 

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