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

You might label this column “stacking the deck.”

Or, to be more precise, stocking the deck. Most produce veterans I know refer to upright cases as “the five-deck” for its five levels of prepackaged salads.

Give or take a shelf or two, upright cases function well for not only salads and refrigerated dressings but also as destination marketing hubs for herbs, mushrooms or specialty items.

Usually you’ll find a section that combines juices, cut fruit and berries too.

When the five-decks are clean, full and fresh, this is a high-sale area with healthy profit margins.

Because the overall look of the five-deck is closer to a dairy case than a produce fixture, it can be easily neglected. Here are a few tips to keep the case functioning at top performance.

The case must be rotated and stocked as needed throughout the day. Make it a point to attend to the case at least three times per day.

Five-decks typically follow a category schematic. Set and follow this plan to keep a neat presentation and make it easy to order for, as well as to shop from.

All products labels should face the consumer, and all items should be pulled forward.

Stock items full but take care not to cram the case too full, as this can interfere with refrigeration airflow.

Wherever possible, create color breaks with items to draw attention to the case.

Bulk items, such as mushrooms, chilis, herbs or sprouts, need more than the three-time attention rule. These items should be attended to constantly, as with bananas or lettuce.

The five-decks need frequent cleaning, especially in the juice and cut-fruit sections or self-serve bins, where spills and other residue can leave unsightly, sticky messes that can repel sales.

Consider adding these areas to your daily sanitation list.

Keep a close eye on temperature fluctuations. Five-decks are notorious for uneven temperatures.
The general rule is to have the cases set as cold as possible without freezing the product.

Many items in the five deck have limited, sell-by expiration dates. Many chains pull items with less than five days shelf life. Consult your guidelines to determine your organization’s specifications.

If at all possible, avoid putting marked-down, stickered items in the five-deck. Nothing detracts from the sale of fresh prepackaged salads, for example, than having wilted or short-dated packages as the representative package. If you must reduce cost on items such as this, use space that is separate from your premier, upright case.

By keeping the value-added, upright case neat, clean, rotated, full and well signed, it can be a terrific source of steady sales, interest and profits.

With that, I rest my case.

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. E-mail armandlobato@comcast.net.

Do you have any tips for produce managers? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.