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Industry Viewpoint: Maintain traditions during a non-traditional year

By
Trish James

Will the holidays become another victim of 2020 and COVID-19? Absolutely not. They may look a little different, but families will still need to stock up on their holiday favorites. The produce department shines this time of year and it is important that we continue to do so by having everything ready to go for our customers. They key to winning the holidays this year will be concentrating on merchandising fundamentals and focusing on our customers.

Maintain fresh, inviting displays
Although the holidays will look different for many of our customers, it is important that their shopping experience remains as normal and familiar as possible. There is a certain energy grocery stores get this time of year. A buzz that is equal parts excitement and stress. When a customer walks into a grocery store, list in hand, there is something comforting about beautiful displays of holiday staples. So even though holiday dinners may be slightly scaled back in our homes, let’s not scale back any of the sales opportunities that we have in our stores.

Make Shopping Easier
2020 has made everything more challenging including grocery shopping. Let’s do everything in that we can to make customers’ trips easier. Managing out-of-stocks and having associates on the sales floor is always important but this year it will be even more so. Customers will not want to shop at different stores so it’s important to make your produce department a one-stop shop for everything they need. We also have to recognize that there will be more customers than ever shopping via e-commerce. Recent studies have shown that 52 percent of consumers bought groceries online this year, more than double the number from 2018. Keeping your store stocked with fresh produce so that they have confidence in someone else shopping their list goes a long way in making customers’ lives easier.

Offer solutions
How do you go from usually cooking for 20 guests to now cooking for four? What if you have always gone to your aunt’s home and now you are cooking the holiday meal yourself for the first time? Many customers this year may find themselves in new territories and offering them solutions will be a big win this holiday season. Pre-cut and value-added produce will be more popular than ever and POS that shows consumers how to pick and prep each item will be welcomed. Do not assume that everyone knows the difference between a yam and a sweet potato or how long to steam green beans. Instead, turn your produce departments into cooking magazines showing and explaining how you can help make their holiday meal turn out perfectly.

Spread kindness
During a normal year, stress around the holidays grows and everyone’s patience runs close to empty. This year will also bring frustration, uncertainty, and maybe even sadness. Having empathy and grace with each other will be more important than ever. Make sure to encourage store teams to share a smile, lend a helping hand, and most importantly say hello. A little kindness will go a long way. 

We also cannot ignore the families who are struggling this holiday season. More households than ever are facing food insecurity and according to Feeding America, due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 50 million people may face hunger this holiday season including a potential 17 million children. Many grocery stores across the country will be supporting efforts to help these families and it is imperative that produce department participates in these initiatives in a meaningful way.

There is not much that can be said about 2020 that hasn’t already been expressed. The grocery and produce industries have weathered all of the storms of the year with the same resiliency and grit that we have when faced with any challenge. It was humbling and inspiring to watch the entire supply chain come together to make sure food was available across the nation.

I know I am not alone when I say, “thank you.” Thank you to each and every one of you for the hard work and dedication you put into your jobs each and every day. Happy holidays and here’s to a very welcomed New Year.

(Trish James is the vice president of Healthy Family Project)

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