Distressed produce presents challenges

03/29/2012 08:33:00 AM
Armand Lobato

Russ T. Blade was taking a break, relaxing on my copy of “Marketing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” by R. Brian How. 
As my regular readers know, Russ T. is my imaginary, miniature produce manager that I converse with now and then.
Russ T.: After last week’s column about culling, I’ve been preparing for the follow-up.
Me: I saved space for you. Last week we covered how culling improves sales, but today the topic is: If you have a lot to lose, what to do with all those culls?
Russ T.: Well, first thing in regard to handling a lot of culls is avoid it in the first place.
Me: Of course.
Russ T.: But yeah, just last week I culled a whole end cap of pineapple. The fruit was okay but the tops dried up on me practically overnight. Filled up two shopping carts.
Me: So did you cut them and try to sell as halves?
Russ T.: Think you could sell that many halves in a day, aisle boy? Sure, a few went to the cut program. We used some for cores, and also as an ingredient for melon trays. That took up about a third.
Me: That still leaves a lot to work through.
Russ T.: Culls aren’t good enough for primary sales, but sometimes are still edible. The key? As long as something represents a value to a customer, find ways to not lose money.
Me: So what was under your thinking cap with the pineapple with dried-out tops?
Russ T.: I twisted off and discarded the crowns, made a separate display, cut and overwrapped a couple to show how nice the interior quality was, then I made a sign for the display that read “Crownless Pineapple.” I sold out.
Me: What else do you recommend when dealing with distressed product?
Russ T.: Again, make sure it is still edible. Not decaying, out of date or posing any health hazards. Maybe the deli can use culled peppers for stuffing, or use other culls as ingredients for salads or other fixin’s. Both the deli and meat departments use produce for garnish. If they use culled product first, that saves on expenses.
Me: Of course. And if all else fails, wrap up what’s still edible to mark down, right?
Russ T.: Depends. Short-dated salads? Never. Those tired grapefruit you mentioned last week? They’re good to bag up and sell discounted as “Cosmetically imperfect, but perfect for juicing.” Or bagging and discounting overripe bananas. But keep these projects in the back, away from your premium rack. Food bank donations are an option too.
Me: And again, do everything possible to avoid a lot of shrink in the first place, right?
Russ T.: Of course. Order and rotate closely. And cull closer. Now let me finish my break would ya?
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. 
armandlobato@comcast.net
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