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

Anything that slows ’em down, and gets their attention long enough to buy something.”

That was the answer one produce director said, when I asked what he liked to see, as far as merchandising goes, from his produce managers.

I suppose that’s a standard answer from anyone in the retail business.

However, produce is different. Few leave their house on a grocery shopping trip thinking “I have to pick up some easy-peel tangerines.” In fact, in all the shopping lists that customers have left behind and I’ve examined after a floor sweep, all that’s usually listed for produce items (at most) is “fruit” or “stuff for salad.”

With all the produce we sold, it was obvious that produce sales were overwhelmingly impulsive.

By how much? That’s hard to say. I’ve heard 70% to 80% or more. The number is hard to pin down, but I agree it’s high. Most shoppers have a routine. They typically buy the same things, week in and week out. Being the primary shopper in my household I confess that I shop “commando-style.” I activate the timer on my watch. I know what I need. I zip in and zip out on my shopping mission.

What slows me down, is a dynamic produce department.

Perhaps this is partly because I’m in the business, but I am also a consumer. Like others, my shopping list also has the “fruit” and “stuff for a salad’” note, if it has any produce listed at all.

I enter the produce department, pick up my usual items: Romaine hearts, bananas, Idaho potatoes (naturally), some tomatoes on the vine, a few limes and — and this is where I am open to discovery.

This is the point that I think all shoppers look around and wonder, “What’s good? I mean, really flavorful? What’s in season? What is on ad that I can load up a little on? Come on, produce operation, impress me.”

I’m shopping for perhaps a few days. That’s why whatever item I choose, fruitwise, will probably be my only purchase. It was pears last week. This week I may want some crunchy apples. How do they look? Oh — low stock, picked over. Hmmm ...

The tangerine display is really nice. They must have been recently stocked, as they still feel cold. I can smell the fresh zest and the abundant spread makes it all the more appealing (no pun intended). Do I have to buy the whole 5-pound box? I hesitate, and then I see an adjacent, bulk display of the same item. A sample tray nearby is freshly stocked. I don’t help myself but instead I grab a plastic bag, blow it open and fill it up.

Abundant. Fresh. In season. You slowed me down. You sold me.

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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