One learns good manners from those who haven’t any.
I don’t know where I first heard that saying, but it’s true. Likewise (and unfortunately), in produce we learn good marketing techniques from poor marketing practices.
For example, while traveling recently I shopped at a large grocer, part of a big, national chain.
Where? I won’t divulge. However, many chains are guilty of the following infraction at some point.
The bananas were dead-green. I doubted these had been through the necessary staging before shipping to the store. Unlike most shoppers who walked past the display, I bought a few — more out of curiosity than anything else. Would these color up at all in the next few days?
I’ll jump right to the answer: No.
On the next table was a display of avocados. Hard as a rock and as green as gourds — a common description for unripened or immature fruit. Although the offerings were neatly stacked, there wasn’t a saleable one to be found. Many customers walked by the display during the busy, late-afternoon rush. Some stopped, randomly checking a few, obviously wanting something useable for that evening.
Nobody bought any, and everybody quietly moved on, despite the good price point.
The whole department mirrored these examples, it seemed.
Displays were only a couple of layers deep. With no secondary or spilled-over displays, inventory was at a minimum and the consistently successful sales technique of offering fresh produce in abundance was simply not there.
It was a classic example of a chain using the take-no-risks approach.
OK, I can’t say they weren’t taking any risks (that would mean no inventory at all). And the responsibility for such stock conditions, for the most part, rests squarely on the shoulders of the produce director, merchandisers and buyers. This is the point from which this (or any) produce department executes direction.
A certain risk level is necessary when selling perishables. As an industry, everyone from the farm to point-of-sale embraces the fact that we only have a certain amount of time to transport and sell our products. This chain was either way behind in shipping and product preparation or they were simply afraid of having too much shrink.
However, controlling shrink by limiting inventory to sparse levels and displaying green items will not only limit shrink but will also kill sales — the lifeblood of any retail operation.
A good produce operation finds that the best balance of risk-management exists somewhere between having too much (and overripe) on hand and having too little (or immature offerings).
The ideal is having the right product in the right place at the right time, priced at the right level, and especially having the right quality that can stimulate sales.
Anything less is, well, just bad merchandising manners.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.
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