The Produce Aisle with Armand Lobato ( The Packer staff )

I was putting away the last of the tinsel when who other than Russ T. Blade peeked from behind some Christmas cards. “Rusty,” as regular readers know, is the miniature imaginary produce manager who drops in occasionally to talk shop.

Rusty: Cleaning up, I see. Aren’t you going to wait until mid-spring to take down holiday decor?

Me: Nope. Gonna be nice and fresh heading into the new year. You’re one of those too, I bet.

Rusty: The sooner a produce department gets reorganized for the new year, the better. Lots to look forward to. You can bet folks with New Year’s resolutions will be hitting the produce aisle hard after the first, looking for fresh ways to improve their diets.

Me: Don’t you mean, build a grapefruit spillover and call it a day?

Rusty: You are a product of the ’70s, aren’t you? Today’s consumer shops with detailed recipes, can Google calories and servings and approaches complex lifestyle changes such as modified diets armed with much more than you realize.

Me: Wow, when did you get to be Rusty-but-sharp-tongued Blade? 

Rusty: On the surface, shoppers are reeling from a good month of holiday overindulgence and an average of four pounds gained. 

Me: And the produce department is their new bestest buddy?

Rusty: We ooze healthy eating at every corner. The commodities are hot: leafy greens, crisp apples, vibrant citrus, comfort and healthy flavors in onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes. Produce offers familiar items with flavors in specialties and herbs and more to make healthy resolutions not only attainable, but while shouting interest and flavor.

Me: I, uh, agree! Don’t forget New Year’s period is also a great time to appeal to the all the sporting events coming up. The tailgating continues with dips, dressings and lots of avocados for sandwiches and guacamole.

Rusty: See, you do get this. It’s time to get out of the holiday look and give ’em the revamped look so they see the produce department with new eyes. The good news is, you don’t have to do a lot of remerchandising to achieve this look. 

Me: Thus the push to clean everything up?

Rusty: Bingo. When decor comes down, cardboard floor merchandiser/shippers get picked up and put away, you get back to basics such as neatly signed full displays, clean fixtures, nice color breaks. These offer a new fresh look. Customers respond in kind.

Me: I like the sign call-out. Especially highlighting positive facts like nutrient-rich and low calories.

Rusty: It’s what produce is good at. Customers are looking, might as well deliver this kind of pitch.

Me: Agreed. Here’s to a productive 2019.

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].