Is your produce section about health or opportunistic sales?

August 21, 2014

Supermarkets are at a crossroads in merchandising fruits and vegetables with other products.

Are food retailers slowly killing the golden goose?

The produce department is so vital to winning store selection, generating trips, putting shoppers in a buying mood, and positioning a banner as a health and wellness destination. Especially when backed by nature imagery, water sprayers and bountiful displays, people feel uplifted by the department’s colors, aromas and freshness. And when they choose fruits and vegetables from this section of the store, they know they’re making a beneficial decision for their household.

That’s all good. So why do so many supermarkets weaken this impact by cross-merchandising too aggressively? Merchants may think they do no harm with 10-foot sets of salad dressings, or opportunistic displays of croutons, shortcake, whipped cream and other processed foods in certain seasons. Yet these tactics, which were clever years ago, are overdone today. Consumers overwhelmingly want to eat healthier and focus on selecting the best available produce without distraction.

To The Lempert Report, the question for retailers is simple:  Will they use produce as their stores’ key to freshness and wholesomeness, or as an opportunistic place to get people to buy other products?  

We’re not saying to end the practice entirely. Rather, tamp it down and carefully rethink the balance line that allows related items into produce without contradicting the department’s primary reason for being – or diluting the transformational impact produce has on shoppers as they enter the store.

In our view, the more retailers do to excite people about produce, the better. This could include tactile displays, a focus on local farmers, and signage and Web content about specific items arriving soon as their seasons roll around.