Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle
Armand Lobato, The Produce Aisle

Newspaperman Horace Greeley is generally attributed for this oft-quoted advice: “Go west, young man!”

So it was no coincidence when evaluating a Greeley, Colo., store years ago, I offered this advice: “Go bananas!”

Actually, the produce manager was struggling with building sales in the predominantly blue-collar neighborhood. His product mix was good, with about 200 fresh items.

But one item was noticeably undermerchandised: Bananas.

That’s not a good thing, considering that bananas are No. 1 in volume and sales. As a result, this one item (cavendish variety) is really a category all by itself.

This manager, however, had a relatively small end cap, which held about four cases, and the placement was near the front of the department. The fruit on display was mostly in the 5-to-6 color range, meaning yellow with green tips to full yellow color.

The greener, reserve supply was on a pallet, air-stacked and in the storeroom.

The advice to this produce manager may seem like a no-brainer. But ours is a business that has a fair share of turnover, so constant attention to something so obvious to seasoned veterans is important to pass along to the newer managers.

I advised the manager to take action on five points.

First was to recognize that bananas are the most affordable fruit by far, so you don’t have to discount the item to build sales. Second, I told him to increase his order for the next few days, which he did.

When I met with him the following morning, we moved the banana display toward the rear of the department.

“This is a power, high-demand item.” I said. “By leaving this near the front of the department, customers may pick a bunch and skip to the can aisle.”

Point three: display bananas deep in the heart of the department, where customers will be exposed to the rest of the department.

Use bananas to draw them in.

The fourth direction point: Build the display big. The manager said on average he could sell 30 cases a day. So the display we built was exactly that amount.

“But isn’t that too much?” he asked.

“You can either store the bananas here or shuttle them from the backroom all day.” I answered. “By getting everything on the sales floor at once you offer different ripeness stages, with the abundant-appeal everyone likes.

Of course, the last point was to build a secondary banana display in the cereal or dairy aisle. With the reminder to check on these often.

The result? Banana sales grew by 10%. Slow store or not, that’s not a bad lift. Simply by promoting the one item that already does well.

Even when we don’t always manage it effectively.

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.

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