In-season produce a best bet

November 30, 2011

Who says specific fruits and vegetables need to be available 365 days a year – when in-season tastes better, costs less and is more nutritious?

How often are consumers’ sweet expectations of delectable fruits and vegetables dashed when they bite into the produce at home – and find it tastes flat, bitter or dry instead? Or that it spoils quickly?  

Our bet at The Lempert Report is that this happens pretty often, especially when the produce is out of season and the supermarket went to great pains to keep it in supply anyway. Weather, transit and handling problems stack the odds against consumer satisfaction out of season, when produce also costs more to buy.

So we raise the question:  Why risk disappointing customers, giving refunds and damaging the store’s image by attempting to keep as many fruits and vegetables in stock year-round? Shouldn’t supermarkets be more selective in what they try to keep on hand and manage consumer expectations with a simpler premise that is easier to deliver:  Offer the best-quality produce at the best prices in season, and educate consumers that the rest of the year is hit-and-miss at sticking to high standards of quality and nutrition at reasonable prices.

Supermarkets could explore an example from McDonald’s, which has sustained a consumer following for its 30-year-old, on-again, off-again McRib sandwich. The Awl proposes a theory that the chain typically re-introduces McRib to the menu when pork prices are favorably low and the sandwich is more profitable. A deeper analysis could either help prove or disprove this. Yet the principle that a favorite food of consumers not be readily available 365 days a year intrigues us.  

Before supermarkets would rethink their produce supply strategies to emphasize in-season fruits and vegetables, they’d need to develop alternate appeals that keep their department a strategic high-traffic spot. This could include more recipes and assembled accompaniments that complete these dishes, sides or desserts.  It could also include tastings as a way to expand what consumers are willing to eat.