Routine, it has been said, is either our best friend, or our worst enemy.

Four items can help form a shopper’s routine

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

That was spoken in regard to our habits. How we go about our business and the fact that the resulting routine produced either an effective or lax set of results.

Shoppers have routines too. In a survey I read not so long ago, it indicated U.S. grocery shoppers tend to go to the same store each week and for the most part buy the same mix of products.

Not too many retailers enjoy this consistency. You don’t see normally see the same people on a weekly basis shopping in Home Depot, for example, loading up lumber or hardware.

But even Home Depot recognizes seasonal shoppers and meets this demand with gardening items in the spring or insulation in the fall. They have learned to anticipate consumers’ routine and demand.

The difference with grocery shoppers is that appetite is a constant. “People have to eat” is often heard, and every food supplier or manufacturer naturally strives to make their products a part of a shopper’s routine. The challenge for produce managers is how best to get customers to pick up something they don’t normally buy, with hopes the item becomes routine in their shopping habits.

It is not an easy thing to accomplish, especially considering the seasonality of some produce items.

So let’s think about an acronym on the foodservice side of the fence, PLOT. This stands for Potatoes, Lettuce, Onions and Tomatoes.

The theory is, that once these items become the foundation (and routine) of sales to a particular restaurant, then that operation is much more likely to purchase the bulk of their needs from the same supplier, such as dairy, meat and more.

It’s reasonable to believe that similar buying behaviors are not too far removed from the typical retail consumer. While certainly not the same customer as a wholesaler, the common thread is routine.

Each of the PLOT categories branches out too, but when you think about it some commodities are at the heart of whatever follows, be it a salad, an entrée or a side dish.

Growing up, I had my own cooking show in front of me every afternoon as I did my homework on the kitchen table. My mom would fill a hot skillet with freshly sliced potatoes. In another pan, onions sautéed with peppers and a little garlic.

What it eventually became was anyone’s guess: chili, spaghetti sauce or a casserole.

Of course, we have to merchandise every produce item equally, but it doesn’t hurt to take a page from the foodservice guide. Take special care of those PLOT foundation items that everyone uses and help make them, you know, part of everyone’s routine.

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.

Have any tips on how to merchandise produce throughout the year? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.