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Leaning Local: A Q&A With Meghan Diaz, Senior Category Manager of Local in Florida, Sprouts Farmers Market

Leaning Local: A Q&A With Meghan Diaz, Senior Category Manager of Local in Florida, Sprouts Farmers Market

As a trade news writer in the produce industry and a resident of Sacramento, California, my consumer radar is finely attuned to the availability of local products. Almost as soon as I set foot in the grocery store, my eyes are scanning the produce displays for signage pointing to local fare, especially those with additional information about where the food was grown.

Though Sacramento is considered to be the Farm-to-Fork Capital of the United States, we are not the only advocates for buying local. For Sprouts Farmers Market, one bustling hub for local programs is Florida, where the retailer employs a dedicated team of leaders who are eager to increase visibility.

One such leader is Meghan Diaz, Senior Category Manager of Local in Florida, who shared with me the ins and outs of this inspiring operation.


Chandler James: Meghan, I know Sprouts Farmers Market is focusing intently on bringing local to the forefront in terms of sustainability, educating consumers, creating flavor-centric programs, and supporting communities. Can you tell me about your overarching strategies when it comes to promoting local products?

Meghan Diaz: At Sprouts, we believe good food comes from good people, and we remain committed to investing and partnering with growers and producers who intentionally curate responsibly and locally source their products. Over the years, we’ve built incredible relationships with local farmers and companies to bring goodness into each of our communities.

Locally grown, organic locally grown, and innovative varieties and flavors are all leading our growth in the Florida market. Our customers have an adventurous palate as they leverage existing strengths in a unique assortment of better-for-you, quality products steeped in innovation. With organics representing more than a third of our produce business in Florida, we know shoppers across the state are interested in fresh, affordable organics, especially local varieties.

 

CJ: It seems Sprouts has long had a history of championing local foods, and that has only continued to increase as time goes on. How has Sprouts’ local program evolved over the years, and what are the company’s long-term goals, both in Florida and across the country?

MD: Now that Sprouts operates over 380 stores in 23 states, our focus and dedication to local and sustainability have become top priorities. Our sustainability strategy pushed forward the opening of two critical distribution centers recently in Florida and in Denver, Colorado, allowing us to drive efficiencies and increase access to a fresher, more local assortment. Additionally, the creation of the Local and Innovation Teams across the country has given Sprouts the ability to have experts in each market dedicated to building strategic partnerships and buying the freshest, most regionally relevant mix of items.

Our current success is the result of years of planning, leadership support, and investment.

Looking forward, we plan to grow our programs nationwide, focusing on innovation, expanding partnerships, and building out our assortment across conventional and organic offerings. Similarly, in Florida, we are ecstatic to grow our assortment, and we continue to focus on expanding our organic and innovative selection. I believe our combined efforts and dedication to local and innovation are what differentiate us and are the driving force of our long-term strategy.

"Over the years, we’ve built incredible relationships with local farmers and companies to bring goodness into each of our communities.”

Meghan Diaz, Senior Category Manager of Local in Florida, Sprouts Farmers Market

CJ: From what you’re telling me, Florida appears to be somewhat of an incubator for the local movement at Sprouts. How does this market serve as the perfect locale for you to trial new products and innovations while educating the consumer?

MD: Florida has been an exciting market to utilize as a testing ground for various items, ideas, and marketing strategies. Due to the bountiful offerings grown within the state, diverse population, and our current store count (now at 34 Sprouts stores in Florida), it gives us the ability to test and measure new ideas. This is speaking to all sides of the business that help bring local to life, including supply chain efficiencies, store support and education, marketing, and merchandising.

With all the great innovation happening in sustainability, from a sourcing and product perspective, we are proud to tell the educational story of our local partners through signage around local and unique products and share how they promote value. We don’t want sustainability and our local programs to be just another symbol on the front of a package or sign; we want to tell a story that connects with our audience.

CJ: Outside of the Florida market, how does Sprouts work to tailor its local programs to the regions each of its stores reside in?

MD: We have a local/regional team in each major market accountable for finding and curating the freshest assortment of local, organic, unique, and seasonal produce at affordable prices.

Geographically, Sprouts has a wide reach, and we understand that local and regional relevance is not one-size-fits-all. Being relevant requires us to be present, with a boots-on-the-ground approach and shaking hands with the growers, which allows us to have that hyper-local understanding of what our customer in each specific market wants. From pack style to assortment, each market is unique, and we dedicate the time, effort, and resources to ensure authenticity.

 

CJ: You mentioned earlier that flavor-centric programs have been essential to the expansion of your local assortment. How have you and Sprouts placed this at the forefront of your strategy?

MD: Our local teams are engaging with growers at the farms, sampling varieties, walking the fields, doing active cuttings, and participating in tastings of everything from apples to yucca!

We work very closely with our growers, flexing when needed to ensure the eating experience is exactly where we want it. Flexibility is a necessity; allowing the crop to tell us when it's ready instead of our demand dictating it, like a true farmer’s market. Outside of varieties and freshness, we also prioritize working with growers who understand the stress of the supply chain for perishable commodities. It is really important that we work with growers who have strong technical knowledge of their product to avoid missteps that can negate the eating experience or flavor.

"We don’t want sustainability and our local programs to be just another symbol on the front of a package or sign; we want to tell a story that connects with our audience.”

CJ: Not only are you engaging with growers at Sprouts, but you are getting involved with the community at a local level. How has this fostered a better understanding for the consumer, and what is Sprouts doing to ensure it remains a cornerstone of the community?

MD: At Sprouts, we do business in a way that fosters goodness for our communities and planet. Not only are we focused on sustainable sourcing through working with local and regional growers and sharing their stories with our customers, but we are also heavily committed to the communities we serve through Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation. This organization proudly serves our local neighborhoods through nutritional education and access to fresh and healthy foods and financial assistance. Founded in 2015, the Foundation aims to inspire, educate, and empower individuals, especially children, to live healthier lives.

With a focus on nutrition education and fresh food access, our nonprofit partners teach children both how to grow and prepare fresh foods.

In addition, Sprouts donates all unsold but edible groceries to Feeding America® and its local affiliate hunger relief agencies through our Food Rescue program. We work with over 400 food rescue organizations from coast to coast, distributing fresh, wholesome, and nutritious foods to those in need. In 2021, this equaled more than 32 million pounds of food, or more than 26 million meals donated.

CJ: As consumers look to the produce aisle for inspiration during the fall season and surrounding holidays and celebratory eating occasions, how will Sprouts continue to accelerate its local programs?

MD: Due to our geographic stretch across 23 states, we have local programs in action year-round! As we progress through the summer months, we have some exciting programs in specific regions starting up. Our local teams have been working throughout the off-season, planning meticulously to ensure we put our best foot forward. This year, we expect to see over a 100 percent increase in local sourcing over last year. Additionally, we have invested heavily in our marketing and merchandising efforts, creating destinations within the store to capture the customer’s attention in telling that local story.

 

CJ: On a more personal note, Meghan, how does bringing local to the forefront of sustainability align with your own personal values?

MD: It feels good to do good. It is a beautiful thing when you can combine your passion for produce, create and foster lasting relationships, and be proud of your accomplishments. Our industry is fascinating and vital to our survival; pushing local to the forefront gives me the opportunity to contribute in a positive way and have a lot of fun doing so!

One thing I have learned while working for Sprouts is we are committed to unique product innovation. We continue to build an innovation network by cultivating partnerships with up-and-coming vendors in the food industry, so there’s always something new our shoppers can discover!


As consumers peruse the produce aisle in search of products that are both flavorful and ethical, anyone shopping at Sprouts Farmers Market will certainly have their eyes peeled for that local label, and Meghan and her team are ready and waiting with fresh produce in hand.