The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( Photo by Pamela Riemenschneider )

“High quality, flavor, variety. And oh, having decent shelf life doesn’t hurt.”

This is the answer I once received after asking a customer what she valued most (in my Armand-esque, unscientific, one-person survey sample) when buying fresh produce.
A good produce department should deliver on all these cylinders on a regular basis.

However, when I think of selling fresh produce, I also think of the five P’s of marketing. I recall from my old college marketing courses that customers are not among the five P’s, but rather should be considered the target of each. 

So, my customers’ wants don’t count? I’ll come back to this in a minute.

The first P is Product. If you want to sell anything you need good quality. In the produce world this means expediting the product from the source throughout the distribution system as quickly and efficiently as possible. This means buying from reputable shippers, delivering a consistent level of grades, sizes, varieties and maintaining the cold chain throughout. It’s what we do. 

The second P is Price. If you manage your inventory well, focus on lowest possible margins and push for volume sales (the root word for “grocers” — selling in gross quantities), then you should be at least competitive in your pricing, and of course customers react to how you are priced in your market. 

The third P is Place. In the produce aisle marketing is all about place, or how your merchandise the goods. When building your summer entry or lobby displays for example, you might follow certain marketing themes. You could have the first table as an abundant corn display, freshly culled and rotated, and lightly top-iced. The next bin could be red potatoes, and the next could be an array of colored bell peppers, watermelon and packaged mushrooms. 

Barbecue, anyone?

The fourth P is Promotion. With this produce lobby example in mind, perhaps it’s part of a bigger summer theme your store is pushing. The promotion may well tie in to a holiday ad, with colorful signing. You could also use promotions to cross merchandise related products to bolster sales further.

The fifth P is the customer. OK, I mean People. My old marketing course seemed to exclude people from the mix because of the whole target thing, but I can’t see how that makes any sense. We must use all the first four P’s considering how the most important P — your customers — will react and buy.

Produce marketing means having the right product, in the right placement, at a competitive price, with a strong promotional effort at the right time. About the time our customer arrives and sees all these ‘P’ puzzle pieces prominently placed. They’ll fit right in. 

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 [email protected].