Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Produce marketing falls into the classic mix of the four P’s: product, place, promotion and price.

Within these components, produce managers play a unique role. After all, they have no part in farming, packing, grading, packaging, branding or transportation. The retail manager typically has no say in determining pricing, advertising or promotional events.

As a former but longtime produce manager writing this to his peeps, it kind of makes you feel a little bit, uh, left out, doesn’t it?

Fear not, fellow post-harvest specialists. Your task is the most vital one of all, as more than one produce director over the years has concurred: The last 100 feet that fresh produce travels is the most important. You must coordinate orders so that you have enough but not too much, follow merchandising plans, or improvise on your own, as many produce managers are so compelled.

To focus further, the all-important skill you have to move product lies in your display-building abilities.

You’ve heard it a thousand times in marketing bulletins: “Build abundant displays.”

Peak-of-season quality, prices

Abundance sells. Abundance works because, in contrast, a small display suggests limited supply and less selection, and if the smaller display gets shopped down quickly all that is left are the bruised remnants that shoppers pass over.

An abundant display has quite the opposite effect on the customer’s psyche.

There is nothing that triggers a customer’s buying impulse than an abundant display, which suggests a likewise ample supply. Ample supply further suggests that the item is being displayed is at peak season and peak quality, and it is priced to move. In a word, the customer absorbs one message: Value.

If nothing else, all these points are very persuasive in the customer’s mind that reasons, “Why else would ‘my’ produce department provide such an abundant display, right?”

For the budget-minded

Even if your department doesn’t have massive fixtures, several options remain. For example, this time of year you can save and commandeer several sizes of used tri-wall cardboard bins and re-use them, filling them with all the great produce that summer has to offer. Find an open lobby or even line these retro-fitted displays up outdoors, if possible.

Building spillovers from fixed displays is another option, using original shippers cartons as a base, build up and expand the display to give just about anything the abundant look that customers respond to so well.

Too much inventory to keep fresh or not enough turns to justify massive displays? Try “dummying up” those tables, carton bases or bins. Think spreading out, not deep, to achieve the abundant look without sacrificing inventory and risking too much shrink.

The four P’s of marketing may be product, place, promotion and price, but in our case I would venture to add a fifth — produce.

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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