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

Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with saying that “Change is the only constant in life.” Today we’ve streamlined it to “the only constant is change.” 

The saying certainly fits the produce business.

Sometimes food marketers conspire to create change. Comedian Jim Gaffigan, for example, asks the rhetorical question, “How would we know that spring is coming if McDonalds didn’t start selling their green shamrock shakes?” 

Change in the produce aisle? We live it every week or so, when something seasonal ends or begins.

Our job, as produce marketers, is to generate a similar type of buzz with these changes, just as many of our non-produce food counterparts do on a regular basis.

The reality of this, however, is that it rarely happens.

If you go through this fall and winter season, for example, with navel oranges and gala apples on the same endcap or maintain the same general look during this stretch, you’re guilty. You’re also not alone. Many produce departments, despite having a rotating influx of seasonal produce, tend to look pretty much the same in November as they do in March. Customers, being the creatures of habit that we all are, react by buying the usual fare and it shows with usual, unimpressive sales.

I say mix it up. Change your look. Every week certainly, and a little bit every day if possible.

This is when I get the e-mail; “Hey produce Pollyanna, we don’t have the hours to do the creative things we used to do ... labor only gets tighter.” I know. It was like this when I managed produce departments too. Labor, being the single biggest controllable expense, is a constant on the radar, too.

I also see fixtures such as orchard-type bins, nesting tables and the like that rarely move — despite these fixtures having wheels, which means they can be easily pushed around or moved with a pallet jack.

If a store has these type of mobile fixtures, why not take advantage and make subtle changes? If the TOVs are not selling the way you think they ought to, spin the fixture around, have it face the multi-deck salad case, or roll it to the front lobby along with a related ad item.

When something especially popular becomes available, say easy-peel mandarins — place it in your best traffic spot. And in your least. A secondary display helps generate sales from customers who don’t follow the same traffic paths as others.

Customers notice when such an interesting change has happened. They slow down, they smell the aromatic zest, and they buy. An ever-changing point of view creates a good sales perspective.

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].