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

I just need some space, you know?

No, I’m not repeating the line I received from Mary Beth McSlurp when she dumped me back in sixth grade. Or the numerous similar heave-ho messages I got from other Marys in the years that followed, for that matter.

I’m talking about display space, or lack thereof. In many moderate to smaller stores, a produce department may be in an area with lots of produce supporters and high customer traffic, but is likewise cursed with what grocers casually refer to as a “small footprint.”

It’s pretty hard to build spillovers when the edge of a produce fixture is only 6 feet away from an equally busy bakery rack or dairy case.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Sometimes the extra space needed to display fresh produce — and build sales — is right under your nose.

One of my old produce manager buddies used to muscle his way into the store’s front lobby. This space was usually reserved for soda pop displays by grocery-minded store directors.

The produce manager compared notes of what volume the square footage moved versus what produce he estimated he could sell using the same space over a similar timespan.

Then, like the good space predator he was, he went for the kill.

The produce manager presented the store director with the gross profit projections. As anyone in the business knows, fresh produce doesn’t always drum up comparable gross sales figures but it overwhelmingly returns a higher, gross-profit margin.

“You know,” he said, “money you can actually deposit in the bank at the end of the day?”

He succeeded by at least getting to share the space on a rotating basis.

Another produce manager I knew was able to gain extra sales space in an unconventional area. He noticed that the in-store bank located at the front of his department closed at noon on Saturday, and remained shuttered until Monday morning.

So he prepared half a dozen bins and lined them in front of the bank’s vacated real estate. Each of the bins was piled with produce items he wanted to push for the prime weekend period. It was a great opportunity to snag the premium, unused space that until then nobody noticed was even available.

Depending on the time of year the mix varied: Apples in the fall; holiday items; lemons and limes on hot summer days; iced bins of asparagus; or a single, big display of strawberries. You name it, it worked, and simply because for the sharp-eyed merchandiser there was available space to work with.

Space that even Mary Beth McSlurp would appreciate.

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.

What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.