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IN THE TRENCHES: Increase sales with merchandising impact

by Ron Pelger | November 23, 2011

What is your most important objective in your produce department? Is it to offer the best service to your customers, be the marketplace leader, have the lowest prices or offer the best-quality produce?

I often ask individuals about their chief objective and receive many different answers. Usually a produce director will respond with, “To achieve our gross margin.” A shipper will say, “To give our customers the best product.” The general manager of a produce distribution center may answer, “To deliver the product on time.”

These are all normal responses, but in my opinion, sales volume is always first and foremost. Everyone should make sales a top priority.

Supermarket produce departments are the main focal points in driving sales of fruits and vegetables for the produce industry. The items and quantities shoppers purchase depend on the overall appearance of product and displays. If the departments are not merchandised properly, less produce will be sold.

Of course, this would not be good for growers, shippers, truckers and wholesalers. It certainly would not be healthy for the supermarkets in general, since the net margin from produce sales is a major piece of the overall profit pie.

Shoppers make the majority of their purchasing decisions while browsing the store. Doing something extra and out of the ordinary is what captures the attention of customers as they walk through the produce department.

Supplementary merchandising is the most predominant means of gaining “incremental sales.” The items and quantities shoppers purchase depend on the overall presentation of product. Flat, unexciting and lifeless displays will hamper consumer interest.

Turn off customers and you automatically turn off sales. Excite customers and you excite those incremental sales.

There is a big difference between selling average amounts of produce and selling massive amounts of produce. All you have to do is visit several supermarkets and check out displays in the produce departments. Those that are flat and conservative only sell handfuls of product. However, the departments that are filled with exciting and abundant displays usually sell mass amounts.

What causes a sales slump? It could be pricing, out of stocks, competition or a bad location. In most cases, it’s nothing more than substandard merchandising. Produce sales growth comes from smart, well-planned and aggressive displays.


Motivate shoppers

When sales dwindle, retailers often move toward a low-price theme. We’ve all seen those ad flyers that make claims about lowering prices. That’s like sending a message to consumers that a grocery chains’ retails were too high in the first place. Additionally, a massive price reduction damages margins and opens the door for a possible price war that nobody ever wins.

A more productive and less costly method to gain back sales as well as grow the business is with smarter incremental merchandising. The manner in which produce items are displayed can make a big difference in putting additional cash into the registers.

In order to pull in those dollars, produce displays need to have what I call an impulsive impact. These types of displays will accomplish two things: draw shoppers and persuade them to buy.

Merchandising for incremental sales is an art and a strategy. It will not work if product simply is displayed in-line on the produce rack and tables. You have to do the little extras with items.

Without impact, there is no impulse to motivate customers to make purchases. When selected items are taken off the rack and placed on an attractive floor display, just watch how it draws customers over to it and rings up those incremental sales. It is all about the excitement you create with the extras that you do with selected items.

Produce table end caps also are prime locations meant to capture customer attention and build sales. Table ends can help sell three to four times more product rather than displaying it in line. Adding a spillover waterfall is ideal for a massive abundant presentation. Again, the spillover helps draw the customers with its impact. Otherwise, the item would only be part of the regular layout on the produce rack.

Produce wing displays are another way to add incremental sales. They are easy to set up and can be used to tie in items related to each other.

For example, placing a wing display of seedless cucumbers alongside a table end cap of Iceberg lettuce can spur impulse buying. A wing of grape tomatoes also could be added to the opposite side of the lettuce. Wing displays are ideal for moving large quantities for those extra produce sales. It is also an upselling strategy.

The flash purchase method also is productive in building sales. This type of display is positioned in the lobby or just inside the store entrance. Its purpose is to obtain a fast sale right off the bat before customers even enter the produce department.

To sum it up, just being ordinary will get you nowhere today. Consumers need to be impulse-driven in order to capture those incremental sales from them.

You and your team need to get excited and be consistently creative every day in order to push hard for those sales. You must motivate shoppers with impulse merchandising.

If you stay ordinary or do nothing extra, sales are likely to remain flat or dip.


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