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

As produce retailers, we know what we want to sell to our customers: Ad items, seasonal produce, all the way down to more (shall we say) self-serving things such as items that were force-distributed from the warehouse, aging items or product that we’re long on.

Those last items come to mind because produce managers are also business managers, trying to move tonnage and reduce shrink.

But what about your customers? What do you suppose they want when they carry their daily basket or steer their weekly shopping cart into the produce aisle? As a primary shopper for decades, a few things come to my mind (in no particular order).

A clean, organized produce department: Customers are at ease when fixtures are clean, and table surfaces, scale pans, rack mirrors, floors, etc., are free of spills, dirt and debris. A department that sticks to a scheduled sanitation schedule is inviting and helps accentuate the fresh produce within.

Signage: Everything should have an accurate, clean, informative and well-placed sign.

A produce aisle free of obstacles: Stop and take an honest look. How many roadblocks are you throwing in your customer’s path? Excess empty boxes, shipper displays, unnecessary wet floor caution cones, multiple or abandoned stocking carts. When the message is “detour” you can bet the customer will oblige without trying too hard to shop.

Fresh, fresh, fresh produce: Customers want the benefit of the produce shelf life. After all, what is briefly yours becomes theirs once it drops in the cart. The fresher the better. They don’t want the old stock you may be trying to push. The first loss is your least loss. Cull lesser-quality product and sell them your best.

Friendly, knowledgeable clerks: Produce clerks are always in the customer’s view. They’re on stage. Clerks must be productive, but it is important they look up from their work, smile and greet customers during the course of their shift and offer assistance. Most shoppers don’t need much help, but a clerk’s genuine effort and a “Thank you for shopping with us” never goes out of style.  

Variety and selection: These are not the same. Think of it this way — Variety is carrying a dozen different kinds of apples. Selection is having ample volume of each variety to choose from. 

No out-of-stocks: I know, it happens, especially with circumstances such as late deliveries or other factors beyond your control. However, as much as possible, always have enough product so your first customer has the same good impression as your last.

Of course, there’s more, and price certainly plays an important role. But it’s amazing how well customers respond when you’ve got the rest of the list dialed in.

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].

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