by Vicky Senni
I had the opportunity to sit down with John Truncale, and get to know the lead guy behind our Co-op’s most colorful and fresh department.
John joined the BFC nineteen years ago as a produce receiver. At the time, he was also doing the overnight shift at the former Grand Union store on Putney Road. John would work from 11pm to 6am, go home for breakfast and coffee, and then work his Co-op shift from 7am to 3pm. All this, he says, to escape the “rat race” of Long Island, NY, where he grew up.
John and his wife, Tracey (who was his girlfriend at the time), were coming up to Vermont every weekend during the winter to go skiing, until finally they had an opportunity to make a move. “We had no family here, and no friends up here,” John says, “we just picked up and left.” Nine years later, his brother, Chris (who happens to be our assistant deli manager), moved to Vermont. And soon, their parents will be making their way up to the area as well.
Before moving, John worked as a store manager for a chain grocer in the big city. He started, as he says, “as low as you can go—from a cart boy, to a clerk, to grocery manager, then assistant store manager, and finally I became a store manager.” It was a huge change moving to Vermont and going from a store manager at a chain to being a receiver at our little Co-op. But a year later, John took the spot of assistant manager, and ten years after that, the produce manager moved on to the Putney Co-op, and John has taken the lead ever since.
“I love working at the Co-op,” John says, “and appreciate the flexibility they were able to provide when my daughter was born and growing up.” He could juggle his schedule around to fit the needs of his family. In addition, John says, “here you’re involved in all the decision-making, writing annual business plans, sales projections, profit margins—things you don’t do in chain stores.”
Throughout his nineteen years, there have certainly been challenges, but nothing that John wasn’t up for. He’s seen a dramatic increase in the selection of produce compared to what we had before.
I asked if he’d like to go back to the old Co-op if given the chance, but he doesn’t miss the old store one bit. After the move, John describes, “the cooler got smaller, the prep room got smaller, and the department got bigger.” But with enough time in the new space, he’s happy with the way he and his team have things running: efficient, neat, clean, and rotated.
He envisions expanding the produce department to use the outdoor space more, as a sort of offshoot of the department and to give the Co-op more of a market feel. His greatest hope is for produce to bring in five million dollars per year! He’s constantly up against the pricing challenge, and hears from customers all the time regarding high prices on particular items. John compares prices weekly, looking at fifteen to twenty high quantity items, and tries very hard to be at or below the prices at other retailers. He also works to build and maintain relationships with local producers, though it hasn’t been easy these last few years since the move to the new store began.
On February 12th, John held the first grower’s meeting in three years to check in with local farmers. “I’m hoping we can all grow our businesses together,” John told his suppliers, many of whom filled the room along with Co-op staff members, including our deli manager, Dawn, who also told farmers that she would like to foster relationships and feature more of their products.
In our 40th year, there is a newfound commitment and dedication to building a stronger local economy and a thriving community marketplace. Topics of discussion at the grower’s meeting ranged from pricing to labeling to California produce versus local goods, and the general question of, “What is our mutual goal here?”
As an observer, it was clear to see John’s openness to feedback and eagerness to improve relationships and inspire positive change within our Co-op and beyond our walls. He couldn’t do it alone. “I absolutely love the people who work in my department,” he’s quick to say. “They’re like my family, and I hope they feel the same way!” John refers to Cheryl, assistant produce manager, as a sister. “All of us,” he says, “this crew I’ve got here now is great—the best!”
Despite the rather hefty role of running our produce department, John may have escaped the rat race of the big city after all, so long as he has his staff for support and the strong community of local farmers that we’re so lucky to have here in Vermont, and of course, our dedicated shareholders.
During his off time, you’ll find John on the ski slopes, or perhaps bike riding with his daughter, Annalise. And if he’s not enjoying the outdoors, he’s probably watching a Yankees game—something John wanted to make sure that I mentioned here—a part of NYC to which he’s remained devoted. But even if you’re a Red Sox fan, I encourage you to chat with John, tell him what you think, and get to know the guy behind the produce. Because heck, we’re all in this together.