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In The Trenches: Produce merchandising is a huge part of consumer consumption

By
Ron Pelger

Did you ever notice the many special calendar days that are celebrated? I was amused by a few selected anniversary days seen on nationaldaycalendar.com such as national Bubble Bath Day, Polka Dot Day and Yellow Pig Day. Believe it or not, there is a national Produce Misting Day that recognizes the innovation of automatic sprinklers over the refrigerated wall case to keep vegetables hydrated, fresh and crisp.

According to nationaltoday.com, May 21 is Eat more Fruits and Vegetables Day.

It is great placing fresh produce in the spotlight, but before we all try to eat bushels of fruits and vegetables in one day, wouldn’t it be better to eat it throughout the year? A one-day recognition is good — and hopefully a reminder for consumers to continue the course from there. 

The subject of consumption has been conveyed in the media quite often. This industry is more than just developing marketing programs and themes. It’s about actually selling massive amounts of produce, that’s where consumption is set in motion.

Produce industry organizations deserve a lot of credit for their marketing programs that continue to encourage consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables, but this is only step one of the consumption process. It doesn’t stop at that point. Actually selling the product is step two. Getting shoppers to make more fresh produce purchases, taking it home, and eating it is the main road to step three — consumption.

The problem is there is not enough writing or talking about the actual selling strategies at the store level. Furthermore, there is not enough coverage on who is going to sell it, how, where, and what amounts we plan to sell.

Industry organizations, programs and marketing is fine, but aggressive department merchandising to actually get shoppers to buy the items is 90 percent of motivating the consumption. Advertising and promoting is the other 10 percent.

All produce directors, buyers, produce managers and department workers do a fantastic job selling fresh produce in the stores. They work very hard at building the displays and keeping them stocked and restocked throughout the day — even with an existing labor shortage.

Consumption is where that all starts, but consumption has taken it on the chin by declining in recent years.

Supplies: Higher costs of production have dramatically forced prices to escalate. Consumer demand for those higher priced organic items slowed down the volume. Product shortages hampered by COVID-19, inclement weather conditions and lack of labor also reduced the volume moving through the store checkouts.

Accessibility: When shoppers are unable to purchase their favorite items due to scarcity, it becomes an obstruction of their convenience.

Cost-effective: Higher prices on top of already soaring retails makes it difficult for shoppers on a tight income to purchase additional quantities of produce.

Wellness: A high percentage of consumers do not eat the daily recommended servings of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the day-to-day fresh produce intake is actually lessening. More industry campaign programs are persistently needed to educate consumers about the healthy values of eating more fruits and vegetables in their diets. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults should consume between one and two cups of fruits and two to three cups of vegetables on a daily basis.

Pricing: Will consumption go down even more if prices go up? That is the question. The latest prediction is that consumers will pay even more for food in 2023.

These price increases are placing a squeeze on more customers during their produce department shopping. They are already bypassing items priced much higher than they purchased in the past. Many consumers are choosing to downsize or substitute to less expensive items. Instead of buying a five- or 10-pound bag of potatoes, they may just pick up four or five loose potatoes. The same goes for onions, apples, avocados and other items.

Staying healthy is a major concern these days. Our industry challenge is to convince people to consume more fresh produce and guide them toward a healthy life.

Let’s not wait until May 21 to improve consumption. We need to do it every single day.

Ron Pelger is a produce industry adviser and industry writer. He can be contacted at 775-843-2394 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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