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

When I was young I’d occasionally join up with some of my newspaper delivery pals after our morning routes were complete and we’d go fishing. 

When the fishing was slow we’d “chum” the lake. It always helped us catch more fish.

“Chumming,” for the uninitiated, is animal or vegetable matter such as chopped fish or corn thrown overboard to attract fish. It’s closer to those videos on cable TV during Shark Week — where chumming the water creates more than mere attraction, but an all-out feeding frenzy.

Such a reaction can also occur in the produce aisle.

You’ve no doubt heard me ramble on over the years about the importance of sampling fresh produce to build sales. But no time is more applicable than now.

At the midsummer point, you’re more than aware what items are starting to peak. Items that are the peak of quality in terms of maturity, appearance, variety, and best of all — flavor.
The problem? Many of your customers don’t know this.

By sacrificing a tiny bit of samples and a small labor investment, you’ll reap these “chumming” rewards with increased sales and gross profit.

“I’d like a nice watermelon, but the last one I bought wasn’t that good,” I heard a customer say, about this time of summer. 

Upon listening this, I couldn’t help but chime in.

“When was that, ma’am?” I said.

“Oh, about two months ago,” she answered. 

I politely pointed out that the watermelon sourcing had gone through several growing regions since that time. I sliced off a chunk from a cut melon on display and offered it to her. 

Going a step further, I gave her a half, cut melon at no charge to see if she liked this batch any better. This is the produce version of chumming.

Of course, I knew she’d love the watermelon. By midsummer the fruit eats like candy, as we say in the trade. A regular customer, she was back again the next week, and every subsequent week a nice whole watermelon graced her shopping cart, and at full price to boot. 

A small sample morphed into so many sales. I’ll take that trade any day.

Give your customers a taste of those wonderful melons, peaches, grapes, berries, pluots, cherries and nectarines. By sacrificing a tiny bit of samples (aka “good” shrink, as it generates sales) and a small labor investment, you’ll reap these “chumming” rewards with increased sales and gross profit. Oh, and happy, repeat customers.

Mix it up too. Try sampling a bit of the well-known — cantaloupe, honeydew — with the lesser-known commodities such as crenshaw, casaba, persian or canary melons, for just one example. 

Your customers will say things like “I didn’t know honeydew tasted this good! ... So that’s a casaba, the soft texture, what flavor!”

Chum away, my fellow post-harvest specialists.

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