The Power of Produce – The Eyes Decide

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. (3)

Is there anything more appealing – or inspiring – to the average shopper than fresh, ripe produce, glistening on the shelf? The ability, as a consumer, to use your own senses in selecting produce is empowering. It is also a prime way for brick-and-mortar supermarkets to, by focusing on their inherent strengths, differentiate themselves from their growing online competition.

Creating visually pleasing produce departments designed to appeal to the tactile inclinations of customers is one highly effective way stores can set themselves apart. Many shoppers who are willing to buy non-perishable items online are reluctant to purchase fruits and vegetables without seeing, feeling and smelling them firsthand. In fact, a recent Morgan Stanley study outlined in Quartz indicates 84 percent of consumers have decided against ordering groceries online because they prefer to pick them out in person.

“Getting people to feel comfortable with having their groceries selected for them is an uphill battle, especially with produce,” notes author Alison Griswold. “People can have very particular preferences when buying their fruits and vegetables.”

Grocers can also use their produce sections to capture the 86 percent of customers who say they occasionally make impulse purchases: appearance is the No. 1 factor in getting shoppers to try fresh food.  The allure of a beautifully curated produce section, full of lush fruits and vegetables, can actually set the tone for the consumer’s entire grocery shopping experience.  Confirms Jeff Cady, director of produce/floral for Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tops Markets LLC, “The produce department sets the stage for the entire store.” He elaborates, “Bad-quality produce equals a bad store, regardless of the condition [elsewhere in store].”

Regardless of how customers are getting their produce, the produce market is well worth fighting for. The 2017 “Power of Produce” report by the Food Marketing Institute places annual U.S. produce revenues at $63 billion, representing 33 percent of the entire fresh foods category. Last year sales were up 3.4 percent, volume rose 2.2 percent and unit sales were up .1 percent, reports FMI.

Further, potential for market growth is significant. Forty-eight percent of U.S. consumers eat produce nearly every day, and 50 percent note they have favorite products but are always looking for new or different items. As a nation, both millennials and baby boomers also strive to eat more fresh fruits and veggies, 36 percent for breakfast, 42 percent for lunch, 44 percent for dinner and 56 percent as snacks.

Tactics for leveraging your in-store produce offerings:

  • Don’t rely on low prices alone; instead, drive loyalty through value, quality, freshness, service and variety. Aim to become a top produce destination for your customers.
  • Offer sampling. It can’t be duplicated online, and 31 percent of consumers say it drives their impulse purchases.
  • Arrange to have your produce transported in RPCs instead of corrugated boxes, due to the structural integrity and protective features of these containers. The end result is higher quality, less blemished and damaged produce which will appeal to your shoppers.
  • Merchandise produce in other areas of your store, creating reminders and points of interruption. For example, you might display bell peppers in a spaghetti dinner endcap, bananas in the cereal aisle, avocados in the snack aisle, veggie shish kebabs in the meat case and/or lemons in the seafood case.
  • Staff your produce department with friendly, knowledgeable people. The FMI study revealed much more interest in produce department customer service relative to 2016, particularly among millennials.
  • Market the value of local foods. 54 percent of consumers say they’d value a better assortment of local produce in stores, most often citing support of the local economy, freshness, transparency in sourcing, and the lesser environmental impact. And if quality and price are equal, 60 percent would choose local over organic.
  • Create value-added products such as lunch portions of cut-up veggies with dips. 85 percent of consumers say they could be prompted to buy more value-added produce.

If you haven’t considered implementing some of these tactics, now is the time. Leverage your produce in-store to entice customers who may be tempted by other options. Compete with the online retailers by playing to your strengths and appealing to your shoppers’ eyes and stomachs. Creating an inviting, attractive produce section, and a higher-end experience for consumers, will inspire both loyalty and higher sales volumes, both positive impacts for your bottom line.
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