Fresh produce demand remains higher than usual at retail, even as panic buying subsides, and retailers are moving forward with promotional activity, albeit adjusted in some cases.
Approaches to ads and planning vary by company. Some are promoting produce more now because other departments are having a tougher time restocking, and others are pulling back to a degree in order to respect the new demands on their employees given the higher demand and new safety measures put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.
“We have been adjusting as needed, keeping our staff and shoppers in mind,” said Kevin Byers, senior produce merchandiser for Seattle-based PCC Markets. “We have an annual asparagus promotion, (which) encompasses all departments throughout our stores to welcome in spring, that we have decided to pare down. It just doesn’t feel right to proceed as normal during these tough times. It makes more sense for us to focus on giving our customers the staples they need — plus this is not the time to ask our staff to do more.
“The produce department will still highlight our local asparagus with large displays and a great price, as we normally would, giving our customers that item that elicits the excitement and optimism that only spring can bring, and hopefully giving them some sense of ‘normalcy’ during these trying times,” Byers said.
Rob Ybarra, director of produce for Thibodaux, La.-based Rouses Markets, also described COVID-19 as affecting earlier plans.
“Promotions are a week to-week event versus a month out in planning,” Ybarra said. “It’s still too early to tell what tomorrow will bring us in terms of long-range planning.”
Dave Rhodes, director of produce and floral operations for Findlay, Ohio-based Fresh Encounter, said produce is getting closer to a return to normal with Easter approaching.
“We have been running daily meal deal solutions on our Facebook page during this time — that was very successful,” Rhodes said. “We are back to running ads beginning with our Easter ad that breaks (April 9).”
Chris Keetch, director of produce and floral for Carlisle, Pa.-based The Giant Co., said promotions there are for the most part going forward as planned.
“Outside of some minor adjustments based on product availability, we are still planning promotions as usual,” Keetch said. “We believe that approach offers not only a little slice of normality, but also we feel it’s important to continue offering the great service, assortment and value that we’re know for.”
Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Friendly Markets, said the company is promoting produce more now because of the supply challenges other departments are facing due to earlier panic buying amid COVID-19.
“We are actually adjusting our plans to include more produce,” Cady said. “Center-store products, in some instances, are taking longer to get back up to 100% stock levels, but fresh produce, fortunately, is not having that issue at this time. Growers, packers and shippers are doing a masterful job of keeping fresh produce moving through the supply chain, so we are taking full advantage of the opportunity.”
Michael Schutt, senior category manager for produce and floral for West Sacramento, Calif.-based Raley's, described a similar shift for that company's stores.
"With more meals being prepared at home, we feel it's still important to show value and consistency," Schutt said. "With that said, Raley's is still building out promotions, looking to partner wherever we can with suppliers whom may have been heavily weighted towards the foodservice channel, and continuing to publish a weekly ad for our customers.
"Because of low inventory, we have had challenges in some departments filling our ad, but we are pivoting quickly to map over that space with more fresh produce offerings," Schutt said.
Rhodes also noted that the fresh produce supply chain has been impressive in its resiliency.
“Our suppliers have done a remarkable job during this time frame as we have been able to stay around the 90%-plus level in stock, which has been the best department in our stores, which of course is very positive since we are the first department our customers pass through when they enter our stores,” Rhodes said.