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IN THE TRENCHES: Think sales and love to sell

by Ron Pelger | August 29, 2010
Too bad there isn't a default setting for a perfect-selling produce display. If there was, perhaps it would be an easy way to move massive amounts of product and generate huge sales on a consistent basis for every company in the business. That would be fantastic for all segments of the industry, from growers to retailers.

Just imagine how productive each company would be if selling was that simple. But realistically, a retail display default setting is mere fantasy.

The produce industry is unique. A farmer plants seeds and grows fruits and vegetables. Then workers come along and pick the items. Packers then place them in containers, applying identification labels and shipping the product to destinations all over the world. Produce buyers select and purchase specific items and sizes that eventually are delivered to retail stores. At the store level, it is the responsibility of produce department workers to prepare and place the items in a presentable fashion in order to entice shoppers to buy them.

But are consumers actually persuaded enough to make purchases? If not, then the weakness may lie in the selling of the produce, which is an art in and of itself.

Selling is not as simple as just placing produce on a display. Before consumers choose to buy anything, they have to be convinced there is a benefit in it for them.

The produce industry has spent much time and effort in recent years to educate consumers about the health benefits of produce.

First of all, let me say that the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Produce for Better Health Foundation and other fine organizations have done an outstanding job of telling consumers that eating more fresh produce has a wealth of nutritional benefits and reduces the risks of developing many diseases. Support in the communication and education areas has been exceptional throughout the industry. We now feel more than ever before that consumers are confident that fresh produce is an important part of their daily diet.

Most consumers want to shop from displays that are fresh and full of product. In order to sell plenty of produce, it is generally a good idea to plan large, aggressive displays of the most popular items.

Generally, the top 20-30 items yield 80 percent of a store’s total produce sales. There are four key locations to consider for attractive eye-appealing displays in the produce department: wall cases, island tables, four-foot by six-foot island table ends, and freestanding bin displays.

High tonnage items should be well represented in display size. Retailers should plan a three-foot-wide item display on a wall case or island table. You can waterfall some major-volume items onto original shipping boxes during peak shopping days. Use all boxes with the same label and dummy the top portion by 75 percent to help prevent shrink.

Use this same method for the four-foot by six-foot island table and freestanding bin displays. Waterfall the front of these displays with dummied original boxes during very active shopping periods. This will enhance the display and help generate impulse sales.

Merchandising guidelines
--Maintain a fully stocked display of fresh product throughout all shopping hours. Do not over-stack product. Full and massive displays should not only be kept aggressive, but also reasonable.

-- Eye appeal is 90 percent of customer drawing power. Use an extended waterfall to enhance incremental sales.

-- Design the display for easy rotation. Use dummied boxes to give an appearance of fullness and help control shrink.

-- Be very professional in workmanship. When using boxes for a waterfall, make sure they are all the same size and label. No boxes should be placed upside down. Keep the display full, fresh, simple, clean and squared.

-- By all means, make sure the display is safe for customers. Never build a display by using weak equipment or materials. Do not over-stack product to the point that it could cause the display to collapse and create an accident.

Playing the shrink game
The first and foremost rule in selling produce is not to be afraid of placing sufficient amounts of product on a display. Otherwise, it will stall your sales process.

The biggest fear of a retailer today is shrinkage. While shrink is serious and should be controlled, product should not be limited to the point that it jeopardizes sales volume.

There are two choices to consider in selling produce. The first is to display only one case of an item at a time so as to concentrate on preventing shrink. Of course, this will not achieve any sales growth. The other choice is to build large, abundantly stocked displays using the above guidelines, which will entice shoppers to buy more produce.

In order to be successful in produce today, you have to think sales and love to sell.

(Ron Pelger is the owner of RONPROCON, a consulting firm for the produce industry, and a member of the FreshXperts consortium of produce professionals. He can be reached by phone at 775/853-7056, by e-mail at or check his web site at