Natural Foods Merchandiser

Light a fire under May produce sales

Produce Perspectives

May is a busy month in the produce department, with Cinco de Mayo, Mother's Day and Memorial Day all gracing the calendar. It's also a time when your customers begin to hear the great outdoors calling. That could be why May has been designated National Barbecue Month.

Customers commonly think of meat, fish or tofu when deciding what to grill. But perhaps they should look to fresh summertime fruits and vegetables. In-season organic produce not only tastes great grilled but can also break up old barbecuing routines. Because produce is the first department many people see, you have an advantage in piquing their imaginations.

Here's an idea—why not make your department's theme for May: "Grills Just Want To Have Fun?" I'd start by asking local hardware store owners or managers to let you borrow four Weber-style barbecues, which you can place in your department to set the mood. If you have a smaller department, table model grills or even hibachis will do. (You can put up a sign in your department saying who provided the barbecues, so both stores benefit; perhaps you could even buy one to raffle on a holiday weekend.) Scatter the grills throughout the department, and create a different course idea with each.

Start with appetizers: Fill your first grill with fresh zucchini, jars of tomato sauce and bunches of oregano and rosemary, and stand up a recipe card for miniature summer squash pizzas. It's simple: Cut the zucchini into rounds, grill the slices, top them with a little sauce, Parmesan cheese and oregano, then serve. The meal has begun.

For the main course, why not celebrate Cinco de Mayo with tacos filled with organic grilled veggies? You can have freshly dug red, Yukon or fingerling potatoes inside the grill, along with fresh basil, some hot peppers—think jalapeno, serrano, pasilla or Anaheim—or even some sweet baby peppers, all surrounding a big pile of Haas avocados. While most of your customers will instantly relate to a guacamole recipe made with fresh cilantro, chopped spring onions and a squeeze of lemon or lime, they will be intrigued to know they can also grill avocados. Here are a couple of tips you can offer for grilling the veggies in this main course:

  • Thinly slice the potatoes and brush them with oil before grilling. After the first turn, sprinkle with chopped basil. Remove when they are firm yet pliable.
  • Cut ripe, firm avocados into about half-inch slices, brush them with olive oil and grill until they are firm yet pliable.
  • Grill peppers (seeded) off to the side.
  • Place all these ingredients in warm corn tortillas with shredded lettuce.

Set up a third grill with a more exotic display: tomatillos, jicama, chayote squash, yucca root or cactus leaves. Each has a unique flavor that is enhanced by grilling and will enliven any occasion. However, many of these items may not be available organically grown.

Lastly, tempt your customers with dessert. Yes, you can even make dessert on the grill. All you need are fresh, organic peaches or nectarines and some vanilla ice cream. (Better leave this in the freezer department.) Provide your customers with instructions to make this at home: Slice the fruit into small wedges, brush them with canola oil and place on the grill. Cook about two minutes on each side, or until fork tender. Just before they're finished, sprinkle the fruit wedges with cinnamon. Arrange several of the grilled peach slices in a bowl, and top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

You can use many other kinds of produce in your displays—portabellos, corn, leeks, cantaloupe, even cucumbers. Just use your imagination. If you want to have some fun, you can dress up like a "g'rilla" (I know; it's bad) to promote the event.

You can include the other departments, too; perhaps they could set up grills as well. Or put a grill outside the store on the weekend. This is a great way to get customers involved in their shopping experience before they even get inside the store. You can't tell me that people aren't going to respond in a positive way to eating a slice of grilled peach before they get inside. Hibachi they will!

Mark Mulcahy runs Organic Options, an organic education and produce consulting firm. He can be reached at 707.939.8355 or at [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 5/p. 28

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