Bridget Bennett, supervisory category manager for produce at the Defense Commissary Agency Headquarters, Fort Lee, is among the four national winners of the first-ever Retail Merchant Innovation Awards.

The achievement was announced by the Produce Marketing Association during its annual “Fresh Summit,” held virtually in October.

The award celebrates directors and vice presidents of produce who have “created an entrepreneurial culture and (promote) best-in-class merchant innovation, promotion and consumer education while successfully achieving team goals and growing demand for fresh produce in their stores,” according to the PMA.

“Bridget Bennett is one of the most talented, experienced professionals in the global supermarket retail sector. She undeniably deserves this award,” said Tracie Russ, DeCA’s director of sales. “She exudes excellence in merchant innovation.”

Bennett is no stranger to industry honors, having been named as a produce retailer of the year in 2012 and being included in a “Top Women in Produce” listing by an industry newspaper The Packer in 2014.

 “When I was promoted to produce manager, I knew I had found a challenge that really intrigued me and allowed me to use my creativity,” Bennett said of her work.

Russ pointed to Bennett’s leadership skills as directly contributing to her success. “Her one-on-one training with store managers, learning how to create enticing displays and building camaraderie resulted in better customer service, improved sales and assisted in training our produce leaders for the future.”

Also highlighted by Russ was Bennett’s innovative efforts in the areas of negotiating significant savings with the vendor community, developing promotional activities and collaborating with commodity boards and growers. Furthermore, she created a spirit of competition among stores to achieve the highest level of merchandising, awarding the top achievers with gift cards to give away to their customers at random.

“Bridget shines brightly amongst her peers in the global produce world, offering our military patrons the very best example of what a superior produce area can be,” Russ said.

“I’m honored to receive this award,” Bennett acknowledged. “It means so much to be recognized at the national level for doing a job I enjoy so much. Being in the group selected as the award’s inaugural winners is just the icing on the cake.”

In addition to Bennett, others earning the award included Scott Bennett, produce sales manager for Itasca, Illinois-based Jewel-Osco; Mike Tipton, vice president of produce and floral for St. Louis-based Schnuck Markets; and Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral, for Williamsville, New York-based Tops Friendly Markets.