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Keep pace with merchandising trends in 2013

The word “new” can be fascinating. Introduce something new and people are immediately curious about it. Many want to know all about it. A new item, new tool, new technology, new version and just about anything that is new is captivating.

We’ve all heard the ever-popular greeting, “What’s new?” Of course, we all know that really translates into, “Hello.” Notice that nobody ever says, “What’s old?” That’s because people are more interested in anything that is “new.”

Whenever a new style, system or device enters the picture, it has the possibility of becoming a “trend.” Once a new trend is on the verge of gaining strong consumer interest, it has the tendency of accelerating the momentum at an increasing rate. This “trendy” appeal dramatically builds up demand.

Consumer behaviors have changed, especially as a result of the recent recession. Consumers are more fine-tuned and sophisticated. They have become “game changers” in the marketplace more than ever. Consumers do not have the patience to hang around too long if retailers fail to understand and recognize the shopping habit transformation taking place today.

Now that we are into another new year of selling produce, all potential trends that are developing should be considered in order to keep pace with consumer demand. Smart timing and skilled merchandising will draw shoppers over to displays that create interest, especially if something is new or different.

Here are some focal points to consider as produce continues its progression:

Packaged leafy lettuce: Times have changed and so has the way lettuce is being sold. Wrapped leaf and Romaine lettuce is the trend in produce departments today. It is similar to wrapped Iceberg in that it eliminates costly time, labor and supplies at the store level.

Now, instead of trimming, soaking in a sink full of water and cleaning up the mess afterwards, a produce manager simply has to open the box and place the lettuce on the display. The bag properly identifies the product, protects each head for food safety, keeps the lettuce fresh, adds more shelf life and reduces shrink.

A great number of supermarket retailers are switching over to bagged lettuce in an effort to move forward with new merchandising methods.

Fresh-cut fruit: Although not new to the value-added line, this category has increased 4.1 percent in volume and 10 percent in dollars in 2012, according to the Nielsen Perishables Group. More retailers are shifting to source-packed suppliers rather than having to cut and process fruit at the store level. Again, this eliminates the time and labor of processing it in the back room of a store, especially where food safety is at risk.

It isn’t the usual cut fruit section anymore, but rather an expanded cut fruit section, with a newly added variety mix.

Mushroom merchandising: Mushroom sales continue to increase, with shipments rising 4 percent in 2011-12, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of this growth, we are seeing expanded mushroom sections in retail stores with unique supplementary varieties making up a bountiful mix.

Some suppliers are using biodegradable pulp packaging material to enhance a natural appearance of the product.

Produce express sections: Produce “fast food” items are rapidly becoming even more popular. Besides salad mixes and cut fruit, there is an upsurge of packaged lunch and snack-type produce items being developed and added to this category.

Container salads that include side snacks such as fresh fruit, oatmeal cookies, cheese sticks, dried fruit and other healthy items are building up an exciting variety of choices. Larger supermarkets have already extended these express sections up to 16 feet. Shoppers favor these items for convenience and time-saving value.

Corrugated display units: An increasing movement toward using corrugated units for temporary in-and-out sales displays is on the rise. These units are ideal for produce, as many suppliers will stock them with product, saving stores much valued time and labor.

As soon as the units arrive, a produce manager simply places them in a preferred location on the sales floor, pops on the signage and it’s ready for business. When sold out, the units are easily broken down and placed in with the recyclables.

Glass door merchandising: Carlson-Airflo has introduced glass door units for the produce departments as an additional merchandising method.

Cut fruit, cut veggies, salad packs, juices and other selected produce items will be displayed in these energy-efficient refrigerated glass door units, just like ice cream and dairy items.

These units will benefit retailers by greatly reducing energy expenses tied to refrigeration. In addition, the much improved temperature circulation will ensure safer product and reduce shrink considerably.

There is no specific starting and ending dates for trends. They are created by consumers as the world quickly continues to change. This is why retailers must be sharp and fully aware of which direction the consumers are taking them in merchandising.

It is of the utmost of importance that retailers watch for clues of changes in consumer shopping behaviors and rapidly adapt to them.

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 ron@power-produce.com, or check his website at www.power-produce.com.