What compels shoppers to buy more fresh produce?
 
For this shopper, it’s my appetite. It has a funny way of regenerating every so many hours. 
 
However, in order for this produce scribe to actually grab a bag and fill it with produce (especially fresh produce that wasn’t on my shopping list to begin with), the produce display has to have that special something for me to stop and say, “Oh, yeah!”
 
The “it” factor is obvious. Its name is fresh. Fresh produce attracts, it slows down your customer. Fresh sells.
 
I considered this the other night while shopping. Mr. Appetite was driving the cart, as usual. 
 
All I had in mind was a frozen pizza and perhaps a frosty libation to match. 
 
Being near dinner hour, the store was filling fast with similarly hungry shoppers. The produce department looked good. Really good, actually.
 
Fresh at Five?
 
I recalled how many chains have occasionally adopted that marketing phrase over the years. 
 
It’s a program pushing produce and other perishable managers to have their departments in great shape for the oft-overlooked (but heaviest volume shoppers) who shop after work, between 5 and 9 p.m. 
 
If really fresh produce awaits the tired, hungry shopper, you’re going to maximize sales.
 
That evening, my humble pizza had a lot of company. I bought fresh mushrooms, green onions and jalapeños to doctor up my entree. 
 
I bought a bag of salad, freshly stocked, along with some tomatoes and an avocado — a handful of this produce item, a handful of that. I even splurged on some jar dressing in the five-deck case. 
 
The extra effort to be in top shape paid off for the store, and it worked for me too.
 
In contrast, what happens (as it so often does) when a store isn’t fresh at five?
 
Well, imagine going to any party, any get-together where the host says it will run from, say, 5-9 p.m. — and you show up minutes before the closing bell. Even if things are left over, the pickings will be slim. 
 
Same thing happens in a produce department if standards aren’t maintained leading up to the dinner hour.
 
That’s when shoppers will walk past the wet rack, past the apple table, past the citrus, past the onions and potato table and make a beeline for (maybe) the barest of their essentials, and then those bees will be gone.
 
No stopping, no pondering or mulling over what additional produce items may enhance their meal.
 
It’s nice to be fresh when a store opens first thing in the morning. But what really builds sales, profits and customer satisfaction is when you’re fresh and stocked up when it counts. It’s a challenge worth pursuing.
 
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 [email protected].
 
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