All in a Dey’s Work

Merchandiser of the Year Brian Dey translates creativity into healthy produce sales.

Originally printed in the April 2024 issue of Produce Business.

Begging pardon from William Shakespeare, but for Four Seasons Produce Senior Merchandiser Brian Dey, all the produce department is a stage, and he’s merely a player.

Actually, Dey, who is the 2024 Produce Business Merchandiser of the Year, is a director, not a mere player — developing the concept, assembling a production crew, providing design directives, and ensuring all the cast’s efforts align in telling a story.

When nominating Brian Dey (pictured) for the Merchandiser of the Year Award, Four Seasons Director of Sales Wayne Hendrickson noted Dey “has an eye for detail and will tweak a display as many times as needed until it is right. He will not settle for less than perfection.”

That story — that engagement with shoppers — creates an event, a memory that shoppers take with them. And then they come back for more.

“I love theater. It creates excitement and creates an atmosphere of fun, selling opportunities to engage with customers,” says Dey. “The benefit of it all is providing the customer with an experience when they shop. That’s taking it to the next level.”

Dey, who has been with the Ephrata, PA-based Four Seasons Produce since 1999, finds creative ideas everywhere. As Four Season’s senior merchandiser and natural stores coordinator, he shares those ideas with the independent retailers, natural food stores and co-ops in a territory that stretches from Buffalo, NY, east to Maine and south to Tennessee.

“Brian’s displays are second to none,” says Wayne Hendrickson, director of sales at Four Seasons, in his nomination of Dey. “He has such a knack for creating theater, and every display starts with a theme and a vision. He has an eye for detail and will tweak a display as many times as needed until it is right. He will not settle for less than perfection.”

Mike Leveille, the fresh foods category manager at Common Market Co-op, with two locations in Frederick, MD, says Dey is “essential to growing our produce sales.”

“He brings a whole new customer experience,” Leveille explains. “As soon as they walk in the door, they’re hit with this big, beautiful display that we wouldn’t really otherwise be able to create.”


A dramatic display is the goal, but does it sell fresh produce? Does it sell product beyond the immediate promotion and one-time buy, and keep shoppers coming back all season and the next?

If it’s done right, absolutely. “Sure, you are geared toward real-time sales now, but the ultimate goal is for long-term, repeat sales,” says Dey. “Sound merchandising will lead to increased sales and increased consumption.”

For example, in 2018, Dey helped create the world’s largest display of broccoli rabe, a product few shoppers know about or how to prepare. The massive wall was 20 feet long, 7 feet deep, and 6½ feet high, and took approximately 12 man-hours to create.

The entire store got into the promotion, with everyone from cashiers to non-produce department employees talking it up, lots of recipes distributed, and the prepared food department showcasing broccoli rabe in soups, pizza and even desserts. The store, which normally sold two to three cases a week, moved 2,200 heads of broccoli rabe in five days. More importantly, the stores are now running two to three broccoli rabe events a year, pushing 20-25 cases each promotion.

These photos spotlight the dramatic theater Brian Dey directs to boost sales in the fresh produce departments of his clients.

Another store promotion spotlighted artichokes, which are intimidating. A two-store co-op, which normally sold a case a week, created a four-day Artichoke Adventure promotion with Dey’s help. In addition to the display, the store featured giveaways; in-store sampling; demonstrations that showed shoppers how to prepare chokes; outdoor cooking demos; and in-store prepared foods that incorporated artichokes — a full array of education and entertainment. The stores sold nearly 3,300 artichokes, and generated steady, repeat sales.

“We don’t do a display with Brian that hasn’t tripled the sales on that particular product,” adds Common Market Co-op’s Leveille.

Merchandising can be an actual themed event and promotion, a big display of a particular item, or a fun consumer engagement contest. But your produce department “theater” end scene, Dey adds, should be “a happy consumer leaving your department or store with a great memory, a bag full of fresh produce, and the desire to come back ready for the next show.”

“A customer’s memory of their shopping experience with you is often why they come back,” Dey explains. “Positive memories build consumer loyalty. Loyalty grows sales and creates opportunity.

“It is a cycle, really, and it can all be accomplished by sound merchandising, adding a fun atmosphere and some creative produce theater.”

Tim Harrington, East Coast senior merchandising manager for Wenatchee, WA-based Stemilt Growers, calls Dey the “Michelangelo of the produce world.”

“His creative displays, pride and excellence are positively stunning. His work is a perfect example of produce theater that helps grow sales.”

“With his toolbox of inventiveness and hustle, Brian can take an ordinary promotion and turn it into something extraordinary,” Harrington adds. “We’ve seen this from him time and again with Stemilt’s apples, pears and cherries.”


Dey is convinced fresh produce merchandising can move the needle on produce consumption — and that’s because “merchandising creates excitement.”

“Merchandising is the vehicle that drives the product to the consumer,” he says. “Creating a fun atmosphere of shopping truly encourages the consumer to buy.”

Sights and smells are two of the most powerful senses, Dey adds, and produce merchandising touches both of them. “Consumers could be hard pressed to walk by a massive display of cantaloupe or beautiful showing of peaches that are giving off an amazing aroma at the front of the store.”

The wet rack is Merchandiser of the Year Brian Dey’s favorite section to work. He acknowledges it’s the hardest to maintain, but “there is nothing like walking into a produce department with an amazing array of fresh greens.”

Merchandising also lets shoppers know what’s new, in season, special or of value, he says. “It increases sales and grows a category. It creates impact, memories, loyalty. And with all of these things dialed in, even if by default, it increases consumption.”

From a consumption standpoint, creative merchandising is an easy way to get consumers to try new things, says Dey, pointing to the tropical category as an example.

“In a lot of markets, the mango used to be placed in a basket or two by the banana tables. Not anymore. Mangos are a hugely popular produce department item now, with large displays front and center in the department. And now, other tropicals are now catching on, as well.”

And educating shoppers about a little-known commodity doesn’t need to be big or flashy. Dey, who likes to promote things that aren’t staple items, once created a small, free-standing display of fennel, not a typical household ingredient. This small display delivered 20 cases of fennel sales in a three-day period, and exposed consumers to something they might not have ever tried before.

His winning formula? Merchandising + customer engagement x fresh produce = increased consumption. “Great math here for success,” he stresses.


Dey, 52, started his produce career in 1989 as a clerk in an independent store in Robbinsville, NJ, “and it just drew me in. An hour into my shift, I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

“Honestly, it doesn’t feel like a job,” says Dey, whose passion for produce shines through the moment you meet him. “I get to do what I love.”

Dey credits his own training to various mentors along his career path, from Tony Mirack (now produce director of operations at McCaffrey’s Markets, with stores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania), who showed him the ropes “when I was a know-it-all produce clerk;” to the late Ron Carkoski, Four Seasons chief executive, “who took a chance on me after I pestered him for a job for two years;” Four Seasons retiree Wendell Hahn, who built the company’s merchandising team program; and current Four Seasons vice president and general manager, Jonathan Steffy. All four were instrumental to his success and continued path in produce retail, says Dey, instilling patience, providing guidance, and offering growth opportunities.

While all of these produce veterans were important to Dey’s growth, he points to Hahn as “the one who has had the most impact and influence on my life and in my career.”

“He gave me the opportunity and the belief that I could do great things, not only within myself, but also in the influence of other people’s produce careers, and self-development.”

“And there are so many others,” he quickly adds. “We all get guidance from different people. We can get guidance from other team members, or we can get guidance from customers we work with.”


In addition to imparting produce industry knowledge, his early mentors also took interest in Dey as a person, something he tries to do now with others — helping someone achieve a goal they want to achieve, or become what they want to be.

“When someone that I have trained or guided along their journey in their career achieves their desired goals in the industry — be it a produce clerk, manager, merchandiser or someone that just wants to build a super awesome display — THAT is the most rewarding part of my job,” he declares.

“Making a difference in someone’s sales is awesome. Being the difference in someone’s career goals is everything,” says Dey.

A display of Sumo citrus was a perfect fit for Four Season’s senior merchandiser Brian Dey to spotlight a giant cut-out of a sumo wrestler, drawing attention and building sales at the same time.

Nominator Hendrickson says Dey has an uncanny ability to identify those with raw talent he can coach, and has a welcoming demeanor and natural leadership that others gravitate toward.

“He has an extremely high produce and merchandising IQ and is willing to invest in teaching others, if they are willing to learn,” Hendrickson notes. “He truly cares about others and their development.”

That development of future produce clerks, managers, directors and merchandising artists is important for the long-term success of this industry, Dey emphasizes.

“I feel this is a responsibility we all need to pass on, so the business of produce retail continues to flourish.”


Like others in the produce industry, Dey has seen his role shift in the last 10 years, but particularly since 2020.

During COVID-19, Four Seasons merchandising teams were in the stores more than ever, helping independent retailers simply keep up. Now, as things have leveled, merchandising and training is the biggest opportunity the wholesaler offers its retailers, says Dey.

It’s one thing to go into a store and build big displays, but when the team leaves the store, how will that display be maintained, refreshed or rotated? That’s where the training comes in, and one of Dey’s biggest joys is training and helping educate others in produce.

Investing the time and effort into merchandising pays solid dividends. A focused pear display Dey created at one retailer from Sept. 25 through Oct. 10, 2023, sold 4,472 pounds of pears, an increase of 325% year-over-year in pounds sold and a 165% increase YOY in dollars sold.

“All the variables that go into keeping a fresh produce department fresh, all of those still exist when we’re not in the building,” he says. “We take great pride, absolutely great pride, in showing our retailers the basic operations of fresh produce, front end and merchandising.”

“It’s just giving people a chance, working with people and training people to be the best version of themselves.”

Technology has also changed Dey’s work, and he sees it as a positive advancement, from the opportunity to look at accurate data differently, or to simplify in-store and operational processes. “Looking at category data — sales, movement, performance — is a daily operation now and, being in real time, can allow us to take action on any potential issues and challenges or expand on successes.”

Although disruptive, the pandemic replaced in-person meetings with online meetings, which gives Dey face time with customers and colleagues even when they’re not physically in the same place.


Dey takes great pride in showing everyone — managers, clerks, GMs — what’s possible when it comes to merchandising: What merchandising does for sales, branding, category exposure and growth, and the overall customer experience.

“I love showing what the power of produce merchandising truly does.”

Brian Dey calls the wet rack section “the centerpiece of a produce department” because it can showcase a diversity of colors, shapes and textures that sets the tone for a great shopping experience.

“I get super excited when stores send photos of displays to me and just kind of mimic what I did, or they take my advice and say, ‘Brian, this really works.’”

“All it takes is one of those success stories at their store to ignite a flame that maybe they didn’t know was there,” says Dey. “Further creativity and promotional opportunities then become the norm, and then the curtain goes up with weekly showings of produce theater.”

• • •

Creativity is Not Extinct

When the smaller Gaya melon came on the market a couple of years ago, they also became known as “Dino” melons, because their size, shape and distinctive, cream coloring with green stripes and speckles looked like dinosaur eggs. And that was all it took for Brian Dey’s imagination to run wild.

“I was a huge dinosaur and reptile fan when I was a kid,” confesses Dey, senior merchandiser and natural stores coordinator with Four Seasons Produce, Ephrata, PA, and winner of the 2024 Produce Business Merchandiser of the Year Award. “The display kind of just took shape in my mind as I was driving.”

The result was a cool exhibit with fake greens and grasses draped over boxes to mimic a dino’s environment and nest, with the Dino melons nestled like eggs. Of course, the dramatic pièce de résistance was the display’s giant dinosaur cut-outs that lured shoppers of all ages, particularly children.

Turning shopping trips into a shopping experience is what helps raise the bar and set stores apart from the competition, says Brian Dey, senior merchandiser at Four Seasons Produce, Ephrata, PA, and winner of the 2024 Produce Business Merchandiser of the Year Award. So, when life gives you melons that look like dinosaur eggs, you create a giant dino egg nest exhibit.

“This idea completely took off,” says Dey, who has set up at least eight to 10 of these displays.

To coincide with the release of one of the Jurassic Park/World movies, one store created a promotion beyond just the Dino melon display. Produce employees dressed in Jurassic Park T-shirts and wore related name tags, the Dino melon display was prominent in the store foyer, and they gave toy dinosaurs to children.

“No one can walk by and not buy them,” he says.

• • •

Deck the Halls with Boughs of … Broccoli?

A single photo of a Christmas tree made out of broccoli, created by a produce artist in the western U.S., captured the creativity of Brian Dey, senior merchandiser and natural stores coordinator with Four Seasons Produce, Ephrata, PA. He thought it would be a great attraction for one of his retailers in the eastern part of the country. And the rest is history.

Dey and the Four Seasons team now create these trees in numerous stores, in different states and trading areas, and even staged it at the 2023 New York Produce Show. He creatively christens them with names like, “Brocc-a-feller Center” and “Brocc-in Around the Christmas Tree.”

“It has taken on a life of its own,” he notes.

“For a lot of stores I work with, this is now a yearly tradition and one of the displays/promotions the whole store looks forward to,” says Dey, winner of the 2024 Produce Business Merchandiser of the Year Award.

A now-iconic Four Seasons Produce holiday produce display, the broccoli Christmas tree is not only a memorable experience for shoppers, but sells product, too. This version, at over 10 feet tall, sold more than 90 cases of organic broccoli in three days.

“This, in my opinion, is the pinnacle of produce theater, from every angle. It creates drama, is seasonal, provides fun and holiday moments (plenty of selfies, for sure), builds sales and, the most important thing, it creates the memory that produce theater is supposed to create.”

But does a selfie-op sell produce? Yes! Dey reports one tree that towered over 10 feet tall sold more than 90 cases of organic broccoli in three days. Another moved more than 75 cases of broccoli.