Peruvian Onions

A Culture of Celebration

A Culture of Celebration

I love when a produce department feels like it is welcoming you home. You step across a threshold and feel taken care of. A warmth draws your feet forward, the comfort of each intention is both subtle and obvious. It is spaces like these that make fresh produce departments such an inventive and personal space. For me, it is the home of a grocery store—its heart.

This is achieved in many ways, but most often because a retailer listens to the needs of its communities and its employees. Who is the parent shopping for their family, and what kind of meals will be set on their table? What do their employees buy for themselves and how does it speak to the overall preference for flavor and cuisine for all its shoppers? What level of care should go into such choices made by the retailer?

All these questions are just the beginning of a desire to care for produce in the same way we care for our own families. This foresight may begin with the retailer, but it traverses all the way to the seed.

As buy-side organizations evolve to make the produce department a sensory experience—bringing consumers the taste, touch, smell, and stories behind fruits and vegetables—one company is relishing in welcoming its shoppers home and expanding its fresh concept as it looks to 2024 and beyond: Vallarta Supermarkets.

With new locations popping up across Central and Southern California, I connected with the company’s Director of Marketing, Lizette Gomez, to learn more about the new developments from the progressive format.

“Vallarta celebrates its roots and its communities. We celebrate food, culture, colors, and the vibrant energy of Mexico and Latin America,” Lizette shares with me. “We like to say that Vallarta offers a feast for all your senses. You can shape the consumer’s shopping basket by the aromas that float through the store, by the rhythms of the music playing, and the different languages spoken all around you.”

With my own passion already invested in her first few words, I turned my curiosity to the makeup of its supplier program and what strategy has fueled its vast sourcing blueprint.

This produce vision has been identified as a desire to connect with local growers, as well as those across the United States and around the world. These regions include Mexico, Chile, Canada, Peru, Guatemala, and New Zealand. With such a wide global network, I also wanted to know how Vallarta chooses its vendors and cultivates its relationships.

“We like to say that Vallarta [Supermarkets] offers a feast for all your senses. You can shape the consumer’s shopping basket by the aromas that float through the store, by the rhythms of the music playing, and the different languages spoken all around you.”

Lizette Gomez, Director of Marketing, Vallarta Supermarkets

“It is an exciting time for Vallarta Supermarkets and maintaining high-quality standards is part of the execution,” Lizette begins. “We select vendors based on a mix of quality, sustainability, reliability, and consumer demand. The process involves rigorous quality checks, ensuring that the produce meets certain standards. For cultivating relationships, we focus on long-term partnerships that involve regular communication and collaboration, including visits to the growers’ farms and facilities. This helps in understanding the growers’ practices and ensuring they align with our standards. Additionally, we have a system to regularly review vendor performance and make sure vendors meet standards.”

With 55 stores throughout California, including Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tulare, Orange, and Fresno counties—the 8,000-member team has its boots firmly planted on the ground, ensuring the drive for excellence prevails across the state.

Lizette continues to tell me how Vallarta’s produce team also tries to cater as best as possible to the needs of each unique community, but with 55 stores it can be a bit challenging—which is why they are so intent on listening to the trends and desires that echo across their entire consumer base.

“We do our best to work with our internal team and vendors to assist in a specific produce mix to make sure we accommodate our customers,” Lizette reflects.

Lizette is the embodiment of the Vallarta customer as well, which only fuels her cause.

“I am not just a Vallarta team member, I am a consumer as well,” she says. “My industry knowledge, skills, vision, and strategic thinking have brought me to where I am now. I have worked in the grocery industry for many years—10-plus actually—so I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. This is where I tell my friends and family to shop. That says something about my own dedication and belief in this company. Our company values mirror my personal values as well.”

To get to the heart of the matter, Lizzette shares those core values with me.


Customer Service

Extraordinary customer service is the key to success in our business. Treat each customer as if they are the most important person in the world, because they are.

Respect

Respect is shown to everyone, especially our customers. We believe that everyone is important and treat them that way.

Commitment

Commitment is essential to reach any goal in life. Stay focused and have the will to do what others are not willing to do.

Integrity

Integrity builds trust between customers, coworkers, and vendors. Practice high moral and professional principles and do the right thing at all times.

Humility

Humility allows us all to work together as one. Always keep an open mind and make time to help others.

Teamwork

Teamwork makes every aspect of our day more productive and more enjoyable. Believe in and support each other at all times.


While the heart and soul drive Vallarta’s network of vendors, trends, and that demand Lizette spoke about also form a driving force in how the company builds its produce department.

“We see several trends, and not just in produce, that fuel our decision-making process,” Lizette reveals. “We see how our consumers are price conscious and are always looking for the best deals but without compromising quality. Many are willing to pay a little more to feed their families the best food.”

Already taken in by Lizette’s passion for the process and the relationship with growers, the conversation naturally turns to focus on how local and regional products as well as seasonal items play their unique and important roles in the company’s strategy.

“We emphasize local and regional products to support local communities and reduce the environmental impact associated with long-distance transportation. This focus also allows us to offer fresh and seasonal items, enhancing the quality and variety of produce available to our customers. This purpose is communicated to the shopper, who then makes it their own,” Lizette shares. “Take Vallarta’s La Fruteria department in Carson, California, which was conceived as an opportunity to empower our customers with the ability to create their own dishes using a selection of fresh ingredients from our produce. This initiative aimed to provide a personalized experience, catering to individual preferences and tastes.”

Vallarta’s La Fruteria concept offers customers the opportunity to create personalized fresh fruit bowls in-store. Customers can select from a variety of fruits, including watermelon, cucumber, pineapple, mango, cantaloupe, honeydew, and more. Additionally, they can customize their bowls with toppings like Tajín®, Chamoy, lime juice, and salt, adding a delightful twist to their fruit selections. These recent changes to the Vallarta strategy are only the beginning.

"For cultivating relationships, we focus on long-term partnerships that involve regular communication and collaboration, including visits to the growers’ farms and facilities. This helps in understanding the growers’ practices and ensuring they align with our standards."

“Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, Vallarta is focused on expanding its presence by opening new stores in areas that are currently underserved. A key aspect of this expansion is maintaining our core company values, especially in terms of product quality and consistency, across all locations,” Lizette reveals, excited for the new year ahead.

With so much change across retail, Vallarta is continuing to close the gap between the vendor and the consumer, ensuring that the stories its suppliers share, become the shoppers’ kitchen table tales as well. 

A Culture of Celebration