It used to be ...
And so starts many a reminiscent phrase: It used to be that school didn’t start until after Labor Day. Or it used to be that once school started everyone ran a banana ad to kick off all the school lunch brown-bagging.
It also used to be that seasons were shorter, and we had many supply gaps.
So it caught me off-guard when as a young produce manager I was called to the store manager’s office in late August. I wasn’t worried, as we were enjoying booming sales and life was good.
Or so I thought.
“Summer’s over,” my manager growled. “Time to cut 25% of hours out of your schedule.”
I protested, of course. I argued that summer wasn’t close to being over.
Of the Top 10 volume items in the course of the entire year, all of them were expected to not only be available through September, but in promotable volume — sales, I reminded her, which provided more than an ample percentage of the entire store’s gross profit margins.
Stone fruit for example, might slow a little, but the quality in early to mid-September is outstanding, and what volume finishes up in California is more than made up for from deals in the Northwest.
In fact, one of the strongest peach ads we ever ran was from an Idaho shipper in the first week of October.
Best of both
If anything, September provides the best of both worlds: Melons, grapes, and ample amounts of local favorites such as leafy greens, peaches, corn and more continue at peak quality and with the hottest prices.
Meanwhile, glimpses of fall favorites start to edge onto the scene. Early season apples, new crop potatoes, pickling cukes and fresh dill are a few examples that signal the changing of the produce guard from summer to fall.
But not completely. Not yet.
While it’s true that when school begins produce sales slide, but the decline is gradual. By merchandising aggressively, especially during peak evening and weekend periods, a produce department can still take advantage of summer-type sales while it lasts.
Don’t rush fall
The worst thing a department can do in early September is force fall merchandising too soon.
By relegating summer items to smaller displays or fewer facings, the result will be a premature sales decline.
Summer, even by the calendar definition, doesn’t officially end until Sept. 22. The extra volume and resulting margins (and labor dollars) are worth fighting for until the last prune plum is sold, when those Delta House pledges on college campuses begin contemplating Halloween costumes.
Remember the immortal words of John Belushi in National Lampoon’s “Animal House”: “Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is!”
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. E-mail email@example.com.
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