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

In every part of the food business, people are constantly examining the competition. Looking over their neighbor’s fence, they have two questions: What’s working over there? And, how can we make it work for us?

This is true enough in retail, and certainly so on the foodservice side of the game.

In fact, I overheard an industry leader make a passing remark at the Produce Marketing Association Foodservice Conference and Expo July 28 in Monterey, Calif. He spoke about how owners of well-managed restaurants constantly evaluate their menus, breaking the offerings into two categories, winners and losers.

Once determined, a new menu can be formed, casting off what isn’t working and repositioning the winning appetizers, salads, entrees or desserts in such a manner so that new offerings are strategically inserted. By doing so, the diner’s eye may be drawn to something new and the operation can build sales.

Produce retailers? (This is the part where we look over the fence to see what our foodservice cousins are up to.)

We also have winners and losers in the produce department in regard to what items move well and those that lag behind. Sometimes it seems that no matter where you merchandise bananas for example, the item sells equally well. Place the item towards the center or rear of the department and you may find overall sales perk up, as customers must walk through the produce department to pick up those bananas.

Why? Impulse compels customers to buy something else along the path.

Bananas, in this example, are a clear winner. You probably can identify which items follow suit: Local peaches, oranges, avocados, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, leafy greens. On the other side of the coin you can just as easily name the losers — or in this discussion — slower-selling items that could become winners, given optimal placement or promotion.

Consider the tropical set. In many instances this can be a slow-moving category. Unfamiliar types of mangoes or obscurely merchandised pineapple with drying tops might have fruit flies circling above like little buzzards.

Now imagine resetting the table so fresh product is used, well-stocked and signed. Throw in perhaps a fresh sample tray of those tasty mangoes on display, and have the whole thing riding on the shoulders of the adjacent “winner” banana display. It’s easy to guess how well tropical sales might respond.

Sometimes all it takes is figuring out how to shine the merchandising spotlight on something to turn it into a winning item.

Just as a good chef knows which part of the grill is the hottest or coolest, on the retail side we must adapt and constantly remerchandise in order to capture the best sales — and resulting profit.

When we achieve this, everyone wins.

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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