Ask anyone in charge of any project: Good planning is always half the battle. And while most produce managers can quickly formulate a weekly merchandising plan over a cup of coffee while reading the weekly marketing bulletin, some merchandising projects take a little more time.

Give some thought before Thanksgiving's frenzy

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle

A pretty important one on the near horizon: Thanksgiving.

A holiday tailor-made for the food industry, Thanksgiving focuses on family and friends gathering to give thanks over a hearty meal — OK, a meal that frequently is followed with a nap and watching football too.

The time for planning produce merchandising for the holiday is now. Yes, even before the last Halloween pumpkin is sold.
Part of the reason for extended planning is the volume spike expected in a few weeks, but the other reason being is this merchandising framework typically extends from Thanksgiving until the end of December.

We’re familiar with Thanksgiving items that sell especially well: celery, cranberries, yams and potatoes. ‘Relish’ vegetables, such as parsley, green onions, radishes and carrots, will spike, too. As will cooking vegetable favorites that include broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and asparagus. Not to mention all the “detail” items, such as fresh herbs, root vegetables, value-added items, dressings and nuts.

Several grape, berry, apple and citrus items will see a sales boost as well. All are ingredients in fruit bowls or salads.

A produce director once said, “Going into the weekend prior to the holiday, it’s hard to be long on these items.”

The intangible factor is how much volume to expect. It’s time to refer to your holiday notes from last Thanksgiving (you did keep a recap file, didn’t you?). Bulking up your schedule is a must. Consider adding an overnight shift or two for the few days before to the holiday. This will keep you in business, crisping and trimming enough celery and building displays — anything to help keep your crew on the sales floor (instead of the back room). Expect most of your business to hit between Friday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Merchandising plans should focus on expanded facings on ad and holiday items. Considering that sales will be tenfold (or more) on specific, bulky Thanksgiving staples such as celery, yams, potatoes and cranberries, it’s important to build displays equal to the task. Some managers find success building multiple displays. And having at least a two-day (holiday volume) supply will ensure you don’t get caught short.

Going into the weekend before the holiday, abundant “spillover” displays help support high volume and can be easily broken down and consolidated as business winds down on Wednesday night.

As one produce manager quipped, “Thanksgiving is the time to ‘Pile it high and watch it fly.”

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 prepare for the holiday rush? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.