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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Customers cozy up to the comforts of produce

Ask anyone to name a favorite comfort food, and nearly everyone can answer without hesitation: Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, hot apple pie, candied yams, tomato soup and grilled cheese, and spaghetti and garlic bread top the list. For me, it?s a vegetable potpie with a baked potato. What do all these items have in common? Nearly every one comes from, is made with or can be improved with something we carry in the produce department. Meat or veggie loaf is better with onions, lasagna begs for mushrooms and so on.

Perhaps we should start marketing the produce department as "The Comfort Zone" for fall. The weather's cooler, the thought of staying indoors is easier to manage and the idea of cooking something warm and hearty just sounds good. You can help customers connect the season with produce by making bigger displays of the items that customers think about cooking this time of year; then put up a sign that says "You're in the Comfort Zone." Distribute a simple recipe, like the one below for baked apples, that lets them know comfort-zone food doesn?t have to be difficult to make.

Add an interesting nutritional fact that helps your customers feel even better about their indulgences. For example, tell them that apples contain fiber and phytonutrients, which lower blood cholesterol.

Baked apples
4 tart green apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Scoop out the core from the top of the apple, creating a hollow. Fill each apple with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon butter. Place in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, until sugar begins to caramelize and apples are tender.


Or, next to the sweet potato display, add a recipe for roasted sweet taters sprinkled with cayenne powder, which provides that nice sweet-hot balance. Let your customers know that they can take their bit of comfort to work or school by packing a cold (but cooked) sweet potato for lunch. On the recipe, mention that sweet potatoes are high in complex carbohydrates. A half-cup serving offers a good supply of protein, fiber, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6 and vitamin A. How about a citrus-and-pomegranate compote recipe at the Valencia orange display, with a circle of pomegranates in the middle? What a perfect topping for oatmeal or pancakes.

Put a display of graters near the red potatoes to keep with the breakfast theme. Note that if you prebake the shredded potatoes it reduces the frying time. In our busy society, any tips that can help folks save time are welcome. Put a "monster mash" display of russet potatoes near the milk and post the little-known fact that nutritionists once believed that a diet of potatoes and milk would supply all the nutrients the human body needed. Of course, you?d have to eat 5 pounds of spuds, but who's counting!

Put up a soup mixin's display with an array of dry herbs, beans and grains from the bulk department next to the onions and garlic. Change the recipe each week and include a fresh vegetable, such as red chard or broccoli, in the display.

Make a list of your crew?s favorite comfort foods. If your crew is multigenerational, this could start fun and interesting conversations in the aisles. Heck, ask your customers to turn in their favorite comfort food recipes and make a little book to hand out.

Or have a comfort food tasting fair and feature the best-tasting recipe in the deli the following month.

The sky's the limit on how much fun you can have with this, and just imagine all the new comfort-food ideas you and your customers can learn about. It may turn out to be one of the best comfort food seasons you can remember. And I doubt you'll get any complaints about that.

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

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVI/number 11/p. 28

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