Show me a produce manager, and I’ll show you a category manager.

Specialties enhance the sale of big sellers

Armand Lobato
The Produce Aisle defines category management as “a marketing strategy in which a full line of products (instead of the individual products or brands) is managed as a strategic business unit.” It explains category management is based “on the concept that a marketing manager is better able to judge consumer buying patterns and market trends by focusing on the entire product category.”

I like the definition, but think it’s a bit stuffy. To me, every produce manager plays a role.

Additionally, a friend recently said in true category management any item not producing sufficient sales or has unacceptable shrink should be discontinued. Does that mean everything from those little jars of kimchi to kumquats and most everything marketed under the specialty umbrella should be dropped?

According to the blindfolded category manager holding the justice scales, yes.

Maybe that works with frozen food, but produce is unique, and can’t afford to do this. We believe from experience that high-volume items carry slow movers. We realize that of the 200-plus fresh items found in most produce departments, roughly 50 account for 90% of sales. Can you imagine not carrying the other 150 items simply because they don’t fit a category-management matrix?

Me neither. But look out — at least at store level, this is certainly attempted.

Lesser successful produce managers dodge items:

  • “We don’t carry eggplant.”
  • “Nobody buys greens in this neighborhood.”
  • “I only sell one package of sprouts a day, so I dropped them.”

In effect, these guys have assumed the role of category manager, on a smaller yet collectively destructive basis.

Meanwhile, customers finding out-of-stock conditions will shop elsewhere — even if it’s not what they came in for.

Successful produce managers find that carrying extra items attracts shoppers by mere suggestion of variety. Just seeing lots to choose from, fuels overall sales, even if customers don’t buy the kumquats.

This doesn’t mean a department should have unrealistic inventory of slow movers. It doesn’t mean every item in the order guide should be mandatory. But it does suggest that careful, in-store category management should be exercised.

Carry at least minimal amounts, keep it fresh, dummy it up. Try bringing extra variety in only on busy days. It helps to recognize that you’ll never capture every potential retail penny in any perishable business.

Realize as minor decision-makers of your organization, your product mix decisions have a major impact on the overall health of your store. It’s great to see an orange display turn without much shrink, but the few bags of spicy sprouts or enoki mushrooms you regularly pitch actually help move those oranges in the first place.

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

Have any tips on how to make the most of specialties sales? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.