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

What is it that sells fresh produce?

In a word: Impulse.

Grocers enlist the help of data-gathering services. Some of these services cost a lot of money too. The data helps identify shopping trends or reveals what items sell best in certain demographics. The data helps, to the point that combined with loyalty cards a grocer can generate customized coupons and mail to the customer, ensuring the customer will likely return again and again.

The most revealing produce data I’ve found, however, is on shopping lists, picked right up off the floor. Best thing of all? This data is free.

Typically the produce part of the list will read: “Fruit” and “stuff for a salad.” These simple lines speak volumes. Roughly interpreted, the customer is saying, “I want to buy produce today, all right, but I’m open to suggestion. What fruit do you have that will trigger my impulses? What’s fresh? What’s in season? Is it flavorful and will fit in my lunch sack — but won’t put too big of a dent in my wallet?

I have “stuff” on my list. Show me your stuff.

“Also, with ‘salad’ on my list, I’ll need the core ingredient. Leaf lettuces? Spinach? Spring mix? Romaine hearts? Kale? Chard? Cabbage? Good ol’ head lettuce? The foundation item will call out to me, Mr. Produce Man, depending on how well you have it merchandised, rotated, presented and priced.

“Following this, my other salad ‘stuff’ will drop into my shopping cart following the same mindset. Avocados? Sure — not too soft, right? Tomatoes — the romas are priced best, but if the tomatoes on the vines are looking good and within reach I just may splurge. Same goes for all the other salad fixings: cukes, carrots, mushrooms, sprouts.”

The more senses engaged, the better the sales. Customers buy with their eyes, but they also squeeze those bell peppers. If they’re fresh, they’ll be firm and even still cold. Warm and spongy or (worse) wrinkled? The customer’s impulse nature is turned off, not only for that sale but it might be the excuse for them to make a beeline for the macaroni salad in the deli instead.

Other sensory factors stimulate impulse sales too. The sound of a melon knife splitting watermelons in sight of the customer, for instance, or the aroma of fresh-squeezed oranges or potted basil plants. Best of all, the crunch of a fresh-cut apple sample or sprayed droplets of a sampled orange segment — all help sell produce.

Finally, what helps check off these abbreviated lists are friendly, helpful clerks. When your crew realizes that an estimated 80% of produce sales are based on impulse, they will be far more inclined to ensure that the displays they stock are stimulating.

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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