The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato )

Hitch your wagon to a star.

This oft-quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson proverb usually refers to someone who aspires to reach new heights by associating with someone whose fame is already established and can thus help propel the subordinate to reach those heights. 

On another hand, I like to use it in (of all places) the humble produce department. 

Further, in this application it’s not even about people, it’s all about the produce. Specifically, about a merchandising method to boost sales, using the wagon-hitching idea.

Years ago, head lettuce was the lead item on a wet rack. So much so that an average 60-foot-long rack would have head lettuce right smack in the middle, with about a dozen or so facings. This was the draw of the vegetable case and even a slow store in our chain moved a dozen or more cases of head lettuce each day.

The old timers at the time advised, “If you’re long on a veg item and need to move it, merchandise it next to the head lettuce. The big-mover, the volume king. The star.”

Sure enough. As time went on if I was stuck on an item, or wanted to push an otherwise slow-mover, that’s exactly what I did. Bunch radishes come to mind. In one store it was all I could do to sell a couple cases a week. Sales were so slow the greens on the radishes yellowed and drove up my shrink. 

I placed the colorful radishes next to the head lettuce, hitched them to the star, and instantly sold several cases per day.

Hmm, I thought. We’re onto something here.

So, I tried the wagon-hitch philosophy with other key items in the produce department. Mangoes (not a huge mover in our chain) were merchandised in an abundant display next to (what else?) bananas. Great color impact, good way to educate customers on this somewhat unusual fruit, and naturally, better than anticipated sales.

Satellite displays? Same results. Just choose a popular, star-quality item and pair it with something you want to push, or even something you want to make extra margin on. Strawberries on ad on a low gross-profit price point? Surround the display with higher grossing berries. You’ll get some of the “halo” effect that a value-driven item provides and help offset profit dips from your loss-leader.

We even used to collaborate with other departments using the wagon-to-star or cross-merchandising mentality.

Simple ideas such as pairing mushrooms near the steak display. Foil-overwrapped potatoes too. Lemons and limes in front of specialty or seafood displays add sales. Avocado displays coupled with chips on holiday or tailgate weekends are a slam-dunk for each item.

In the end, the wagon and the star are the same. Sales.

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