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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Produce Perspectives: Reshuffle Your Sets to Refresh Customer Interest

Produce Perspectives

How do you plan to start the new year? The same way you ended the last? What about your customers? Are they in a buying rut? Have you ever watched your regular customers' buying patterns? They often follow a simple pattern: carrots, celery, apples, potatoes, maybe a sample and on to the next department. I once had a customer come in after a wet-side reset and exclaim, "You have romaine lettuce!" We've always carried romaine lettuce, but it never made it into her cart until I moved things around.

I'd like to suggest that January is a perfect time to make a break from old display habits and help customers out of their buying ruts. But where do you begin? How about with the No. 1 selling fruit—bananas. Are your bananas in the front of the department? Why? Customers will still find bananas if you make them walk through the whole department past the other beautiful produce to get them. Such a stroll is likely to land other produce in their carts.

Do you have trouble selling roots? Are the turnips, loose beets, rutabagas and sunchokes collectively hidden in "Rootville?" Don't lump all the roots together so they become a passable blend of reds, browns and whites. Liberate your roots and show them off by intermixing produce that sells well and accents the roots' natural colors. At Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, Vt., we put the roots in separate bowls and surrounded them with different varieties of the best-selling greens. It not only opened the customers' eyes to these seasonal globes, but the change enlivened the whole set. Consider the stand a painter's canvas and display kale around beets and collards around turnips.

Is your citrus a wall of orange-yellow? Why not break up the color with green and red apples or pears? Navel oranges and marsh ruby grapefruit will attract more attention if their colors are contrasted by a row of some other fruit. Discard the old rule that says you shouldn't mix fruits because the ethylene gas each produces speeds ripening. I counter that the sales generated by the colorful display will offset any losses. Plus, you won't know unless you try.

Dan Blackmore, produce manager at the Common Market in Fredrick, Md., just did such a reset and generated lots of excitement. Blackmore didn't do just a little changing; he moved everything around. "It took [the customers] a little time to get used to it, but the overall reaction was very positive." He says even the crew has found its passion again.

Doing a reset can be a great morale builder because it reminds crew members of why they love to work in the produce department. A reset also is good for the bottom line. I recently worked with Atkinson's Market in Ketchum, Idaho, which already had fantastic produce sales for a department its size. We took all the organic produce that was interspersed throughout the department and reset a beautiful all-organic section near the entrance. Organic sales doubled in the first week.

Resets also can provide an opportunity to review your display techniques and examine whether they still meet your department's needs. At the Real Foods Store in Helena, Mont., we recently did a reset and found several ways to make stocking and rotation easier for the crew, which means better use of time, and that's something many departments can use help with.

Now that you've got your motivation, don't forget to take pictures of your work. Photos can serve as great teaching tools to help new employees get a sense of what you're trying to create in the department. Andru Moshe, produce manager of Sacramento Natural Foods, has done many a makeover in her department throughout the years; pictures provide ideas from the past to inspire the look of the future.

A reset can inspire everyone involved. You can break some customers out of their celery-carrots-potatoes rut while improving the appearance and sales of your department and morale of your staff. I'd love to see what you accomplish. Send before-and-after photos to Organic Options, P.O. Box 1886, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, or e-mail

Mark Mulcahy runs an organic education and produce consulting firm.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 1/p. 38

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