Use Apple’s model to sell more perishables

December 13, 2012

Excite demand with pre-season buzz of perennial favorites. Sustain momentum with sampling programs.

Fruits and vegetables may be nutrition kings, but they’re popularity paupers. Repeated industry and government efforts have failed to coax produce consumption beyond the three-servings-a-day mark –well below what experts say our bodies should have.

Perhaps retailers and suppliers should look to the apple for advice. Not the fruit—the technology company.

The recent dip in their stock price aside, Apple has been a phenomenon for years. Its success largely stems from the way the brand builds consumer demand ahead of product launches, then usually meets or exceeds reasonable expectations with superior design and performance.

Apple’s approach differs from that of the foundering Best Buy and the former Circuit City (now online only and about to consolidate with They are like so many chains that sell electronics, which The Lempert Report also regards as perishable because of the short time frame for items to be perceived as hot and innovative. Pretty soon, they turn as brown as bananas and need to be marked down to make way for the next batch.

Like Apple, why not hype specific produce items to excite demand before their seasons start? How much more clementine and persimmon volume could your stores be selling right now—if you had messaged (on signs, blackboards, Web) before their arrivals and continued to market with sampling and serving ideas? Heirloom tomatoes, and distinctive varieties of melons, peaches and plums are among multiple opportunities in produce alone. Messaging builds early buzz, tasting sustains the momentum.

Because produce is largely unbranded, and because stores would reap the rewards of sampling programs, we urge retailers to bear the expense. These programs could help advance the image of supermarkets as health and wellness centers.

The Lempert Report reported on Oct. 16 about a Michigan State University study of packaging influences on produce purchase decisions. Retailers could sway produce buying using some of its insights here.

Another way to connote freshness and spur buying is merchandising on the vine. H&Y Market strikes a visual with Brussels sprouts on their thick vines. Many stores sell tomatoes and grapes on the vine – it looks natural and helps keep them “alive” longer. Bibb lettuce sold in clamshell boxes has its roots at the bottom, so a little water there can go a long way.

We think food stores could more artfully use the vibrant colors of so many fruits and vegetables to make memorable statements for customers. Perhaps contests for local designers and students could help unearth some beautiful, fresh concepts.