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

Overheard in a store a couple weeks ago: “I’d like to buy more fruits and vegetables, but I never know what, you know, is good right now.”

To me, that’s not an uncommon thought among customers. You see them pushing their carts down the produce aisle, and we assume they know what they’re looking for. They don’t. At least not completely.

So this is a great time to speak up — with samples, that is.

Late fall is an ideal time to push suggestive selling on the sales floor with the crew, and a perfect opportunity to lobby for the in-store demo team to spend a busy Saturday actively sampling a few produce items.

I’ll even lend out my rhetorical question theme: What’s good right now?

And, what exactly could this be? Right now the late fall and early winter citrus is in full swing.

Many customers don’t know that we’re way past the thick-skinned desert summer grapefruit. Produce departments now stock great Florida and Texas grapefruit that eats like candy. But customers won’t know unless they just happen to buy some.

Your job? Don’t let them wait until March.

By cutting this grapefruit and handing out samples now, it’s priming the sales pump. The knowledge we produce professionals take for granted actually needs to be shared with customers with the dawn of each new or seasonal change.

All it takes to know you’ve hit your mark is the look on the shoppers’ faces when they sample the goods.

Same goes for other citrus. Show them how easy those California navels or tangerines peel, how sweet they are and how easy to serve.

The sensory attraction continues as they sample new crop apple varieties and the flavor explodes in their mouths. Tie in a little cheese. Tasting is believing.

Customers are open to suggestions. How many times have you encountered a hesitant shopper who confides they just don’t know what to make for dinner? How easy is it to take advantage of this and suggest, for example, making a stir-fry vegetable dish?

“Too much trouble,” the customer may counter.

That’s when you demonstrate. Break off a couple of ribs of bok choy and napa cabbage into a bag (sure they can just buy a little, you reassure them).

Same thing with celery, some green onions, a bell pepper or zuke and a handful of mushrooms. Break off a knob of ginger and bam! Dinner is ready.

OK, they’ll need a skillet and a little peanut oil to finish the job. But you plant the idea. Create new sales and make a new friend in the process.

But you have to speak up and say, “You have got to try this! We have lots of great produce right now.”

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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