Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer
Vicky Boyd, Staff Writer

More and more grower-packer-shippers of grapes are identifying the specific varieties of fruit in their bags with stickers or other types of graphics, hoping to follow the success of the apple industry.

Distinguishing the varieties becomes even more critical if they’re marketing one that’s copyrighted or proprietary and has special characteristics worth a higher price.

On face value, that sounds like a sound marketing move.

But it will have a tough time succeeding if the entire produce department staff isn’t first brought on board and educated about the varietal differences.

After all, the produce clerk is the first line of contact the consumer typically has with a piece of produce.

A knowledgeable clerk can sell the consumer on an item, whereas one who is clueless can lose a sale.

Late last spring, for example, I asked a produce clerk at the local Save Mart Supermarket where I shop in Modesto, Calif., whether the peaches on display were freestone or cling.

He just looked at me.

I then explained the difference between the two, and he shrugged. Since I much prefer freestone because of their ease of eating, I walked away without buying any peaches.

He lost a sale.

This is not the first time I’ve asked a question of a produce clerk, who responded with a blank expression.

Service equals sales

I’ve found myself shopping more and more at O’Brien’s Market, a family-owned chain of three supermarkets in the Modesto area, because the produce managers and clerks are super knowledgeable.

I’ll ask about peaches on display, and they’ll discuss their acid to sugar ratios and ask whether I like the typical tang of yellow peaches or the sweetness of a white peach.

When I answer I like the acid tang, they’ll either tell me this is the peach for me or point to another display that has fruit they believe I’ll prefer.

The clerks at O’Brien’s also alert me to varieties that are nearing harvest and that they’ll have in a few weeks.

It’s much like going to a restaurant and asking the server about a particular menu item.

If the server says, “I really don’t know what it is,” and I’m not feeling adventurous, I’ll stick with something familiar. I also may leave less of a tip because I don’t feel I received excellent service.

Consumer connection

Consumers are the same way. If they see two bags of red grapes with different prices, they may wonder why the red flames are less than the other variety.

After all, to the uninitiated, red grapes are red grapes.

If the clerk can explain that the higher-priced Cotton Candy variety has a much larger berry size, a taste just like its namesake, a delightful crunch that practically pops in your mouth, and that it will wow even the pickiest of eaters, then the store is much more likely to make a sale.

The goodwill that produce clerk has created is priceless. If the shopper is happy with the recommendation, he or she may return to that store in the future just because of the knowledgeable clerk.

When you think about it, good produce clerks really should be called produce ambassadors because they represent the store’s fruits and vegetables.

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