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

Normally, in one way or another, my mantra is to push produce sales any way you can. Like anything, there is an exception to the rule.

This exception? It’s what you do when an item is short, especially an ad item.

This happens sometimes. Sales explode and weekly volume forecasts are eclipsed on the first day of the ad. Buyers scramble to keep up with demand. Trucks are delayed because of bad weather either at the source or en route to the distribution warehouse. These are just a few examples of how it can happen.

No matter the reason, running short on an ad item triggers reactive measures.

I’ve heard the order from many a store manager, “Whatever you do, don’t run out of (for example) strawberries.”

Of course, the wise-apple response (under my breath) in these cases was always, “We can only sell our inventory once.”

But any resourceful produce manager knows how to string out sales to avoid running out of an ad item.

Certainly part of the reason of taking action to retard sales is an internal one. Nobody wants a supervisor or district manager to happen upon a store that has ad items among its out-of-stocks. Some produce managers will even “hide” a display if the ad item has a negative effect on profit margin — which is a countereffective measure and a column for another day.

More than this is taking the chance that a customer will come into a store looking specifically for the ad berries and, finding them out of stock, will abandon the shopping trip and leave — perhaps for good.

So until the pipeline is full again, exactly what measures can a produce manager take to slow down a hot ad item?

Hiding term is first on the list. Moving the strawberries from a prominent, high-traffic location to a less-visible part of the department will definitely slow down sales.

Another method is to reduce facings of the item. Sometimes just by taking this action, customers are less likely to notice that the item is on sale in the first place.

Another common method to slow down sales is to make the display so small or less-accessible that only one customer can shop the display. This method is very effective, as most shoppers either won’t notice the ad item or they continue shopping with the intention of returning to the ad display but soon forget.

For most traditional-style grocers, pushing sales in general and ad items in particular is of paramount importance for both short and long-term success. So I stress, taking these measures should be the exception, not the rule.

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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