Break With Tradition, Keep Produce Front and Center During Holidays

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the November 2018 issue of Produce Business.

As the end of the year approaches, retail executives often concentrate their focus on the traditional method of promoting the holidays. This time-honored strategy shifts the focus from one department to another. One casualty of this switch is produce. If produce managers protest the switch or propose promotional activity, upper management responds often negatively and states “you’ve had your time; meat is the ‘star’ now.” Once again, this attitude proves that upper management “just doesn’t get it.”

Although it is a good thing to highlight traditional produce items that are popular at this time of year, why limit marketing to this sort of limited strategy? By restricting your promotional activity to traditional items, you ultimately limit your sales potential. Be unconventional and break out of this traditional mindset. Expand the horizon of opportunity for your operations by taking calculated risks to drive sales. There are many ways to do this, and they are only limited by your imagination and innovation. Superior produce operations will seize every opportunity possible to differentiate their stores.

How do you go about doing this? The first thing to do is take a look at the wide world of produce. Open your eyes to see the wide variety and abundance of offerings available during this time of the year around the world. The offerings of fruit, melons and other commodities from the Southern Hemisphere have grown significantly over the years and affords the innovative retailer a tremendous supply of products to spur additional sales. Explore the availability of “summer” fresh fruit and melons from South America, Asia, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Nearly every variety of fruit and melons is available and can add a sweet and flavorful addition to your holiday selection.

The offerings of fruit, melons and other commodities from the Southern Hemisphere have grown significantly over the years and affords the innovative retailer a tremendous supply of products to spur additional sales.

Additionally, the expansion of the berry category throughout the world has made supplies of the most popular items in this category available to further enhance the festive offerings for the holidays. Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries are now available from various sources in the Southern Hemisphere, and the quality and flavor is comparable to any region. These imported produce items are available at the key ports within the United States on a daily basis and can be mixed to provide availability for any size retailer. Given the ever-changing demographic landscape in the United States, one should always look at various exotic fruits and vegetables available from the Southern Hemisphere during these holiday periods.

Some people might see this strategy as risky as these commodities tend to be higher priced than their domestic counterparts during the season. The increases in production in the Southern Hemisphere over the past few years have helped to close this gap significantly and make these items price-competitive. In addition, the methods of production and growing practices in these areas have been improved significantly to where the quality is comparable to any produced in the U.S.

Because of the more attractive pricing, the risk is significantly reduced, and the opportunity far outweighs any chance for loss. It must also be noted that consumers have shown the willingness to pay a little more for unique, flavorful, high-quality produce during the holiday season to make their meals more festive and opulent. These out-of-season items allow customers the opportunity to “dress up” their holiday table. The utilization and promotion of these “summer” items help successful retailers separate from the competition and drive additional holiday sales.

The combination of the promotion of the “traditional” and the fresh imported and counter-seasonal produce items is one powerful message to the consumer. It conveys that you and your operations have gone to every corner of the earth to bring them the best selection of fresh produce for their holiday celebrations. This dual-promotional strategy offers each operation and every customer the type of selection and flexibility enjoyed during the peak months of domestic production at a time when supplies traditionally have been limited and the departments less than exciting. This type of aggressive approach will help convince upper management the shift of total holiday promotion to other departments is shortsighted. Produce represents a tremendous opportunity for sales during the holidays and is one department that cannot be overlooked by the successful retailer.

The “breaking with tradition” action does not in any way diminish the traditional nature of the season but rather enhances the experience and offers the consumer an opportunity to celebrate the holidays in any way they desire. It’s a true win-win situation for everyone involved.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to