The following article was written by Heinen’s Chief Dietitian, Melanie Jatsek RD, LD.
Have you ever wondered what makes Heinen’s produce so fresh and flavorful? It’s not just a coincidence, you know!
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Heinen’s Produce Director Vinnie Latessa, to understand the mystery behind the consistently superior quality of Heinen’s fresh fruits and vegetables. It turns out that sourcing the freshest produce is a complex yet rewarding process that requires an entire team of Heinen’s associates!
One of my favorite items in Heinen’s Produce Department is apples. I eat one every day and can always tell when I’m biting into an apple from Heinen’s, so I asked Vinnie, “what makes them so fresh?” and, “why can I taste the difference?”
Vinnie shared that the freshness of Heinen’s produce is driven by four things:
- Knowledgeable Associates
We link ourselves to the best growers and distributors. Our direct relationships with growers allow us to reinforce growing produce according to Heinen’s specifications. We’ve also developed a deep relationship with the Amish farmer community in Ohio, which allows 70% of our produce to be sourced from local farms during the summer months.
In addition, we buy the best grades of produce, called “Premium Grade.” We aren’t interested in second best. This is one of the reasons our produce holds up longer in your refrigerator. It starts with buying the best!
Storage is critical for our customers to experience longevity of produce in their refrigerator. For this to happen, we get our produce to our stores rapidly instead of allowing it to sit. We do this by meeting what’s called “just in time” points. This means that from the growers’ farms to our warehouse, and from our warehouse to our stores, we are committed to getting produce to our customers quicker. That’s really where the rubber meets the road and ultimately equates to freshness.
We have a rigid inspection process at Heinen’s. Our full-time inspector is responsible for making sure our produce meets our standards. One way he does this is by using an instrument called a refractometer. This device measures the number of sugar “Brix” in the juice of fresh fruit. The higher the number, the sweeter the fruit.
Another tool used by our inspector is a penetrometer, which tests the hardness of produce items like avocados, plums, peaches and other stone fruit. Because a fruit’s ripeness is determined by its hardness, the penetrometer measurement provides a way to monitor fruit ripening and softening during storage to ensure the best quality once it reaches our customers.
All of the produce that you see in Heinen’s Produce Department is inspected at our warehouse and by our associates at the stores and if it doesn’t meet our standards, we simply won’t sell it.
Of course, let’s not forget our knowledgeable Produce Associates. We have a high level of confidence in our well-staffed and well-trained produce team. They take pride in caring for the produce by rotating it and inspecting it for quality and freshness before it meets our customers.
Produce Fun Fact
I asked Vinnie to share something interesting about Heinen’s Produce Department that most customers don’t know. It turns out if you’re like me and feel intimidated by the idea of cutting fresh squash at home, you can ask a Produce Associate to slice it for you! And what’s more, if you only want to purchase half of the squash, they will sell you half!
It all goes back to Joe Heinen, who opened Heinen’s as a butcher shop in 1929 with the belief that, “you have to find the best to sell the best.” Now the produce mystery is solved: Heinen’s finds the best growers, chooses the best quality and employs the best associates, which results in the freshest produce for you to enjoy!