The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by The Packer staff )

I hear the most interesting things while shopping.

The produce manager looked up briefly at a nearby clerk from his stocking position. “Push the pineapple,” he said. “We received a full pallet distribution from the warehouse last night, lucky us. I figure we have two, maybe three days to clean it up before we have to eat it.”

Translation: If they don’t sell the fruit quickly, the pineapple will end up as shrink.

A curious marketing term, “push.” As if a produce manager can manipulate produce inventory that he or she is long on, merchandise the perishable goods in a manner so that they will miraculously increase sales. 

Those “push” miracles indeed happen. All the time.

In the pineapple example, the savvy produce manager will widen the display. Perhaps make a secondary display in a high-traffic part of the department or in the entrance lobby. From that point the manager might cut and overwrap a few pineapples to show off the nice quality, and even place a tray of samples in front of the display. 

This is a good example to use because fresh pineapple isn’t exactly on everyone’s shopping list. In fact, in the countless lists I’ve swept up it’s rare to see much produce detail besides “Fruit” and “Stuff for a salad” scribbled on the list. 

Which is why it’s so important for a produce department not only to be in decent shape, but to slow down the customer, and “wow” them with abundant displays of just-stocked fresh produce. If you just present OK stock conditions, that’s exactly the kind of sales you can expect.

However, there are circumstances when you’re particularly long on something, like the pineapple that needs a nudge. 

You don’t necessarily need to reduce the price to push product, either (although sometimes it’s necessary). A large display triggers something in the very impulse-minded produce customer. 

It’s especially important to push something like this as soon as possible, while the quality is fresh and appealing to the eye. Large displays shout value. The representative cuts appeal to the eye, and samples help seal the deal.

The funny thing? Sometimes you can create your own “produce push” situations.

I’ve seen produce managers bring in an extra pallet of mangoes, or imported bartlett pears, drop loads of watermelon, the list goes on. They have a feel for what will sell if promoted, knowing the quality, and (not surprisingly) favoring the higher, gross-profit items. With the timing good (a holiday or busy weekend), they “blow and go” earning added sales and profit margin.

Sometimes a produce manager just needs a push in the right direction. 

Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at lobatoarmand@gmail.com.

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