Cast a Critical Eye on Your Operations, Marketing Strategy

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the August 2023 issue of Produce Business.

Now that the peak of the summer selling season has cooled down, it is a good time to set aside daily responsibilities and cast a critical eye on your operations — more specifically your marketing strategy. Often, all retailers overlook the chance to review success and/or failure of their marketing strategy at peak periods during the year. Upper management often considers such analysis as unnecessary and that the “numbers” will tell the story of the success or failure of their strategy. This seems to be a rather shortsighted attitude and avoids the benefits of determining which concepts and strategies are really working the way they should and achieving their goals.

In terms of produce, it is critical to determine if the gist of everything your operation is trying to accomplish is actually working as intended. Given management’s reluctance to make this review, once again, proves the point that when it comes to marketing, especially that of fresh produce, “they just don’t get it!”

The first step in your marketing strategic review is to gather your plans and strategic concepts that were utilized to formulate the plan. Be sure to check every aspect as to its performance over time. The first question you ask is “What exactly the strategy was and what were the goals it was to attain?” Look carefully at your operations and the results to ascertain what it really did accomplish. Conversely, by doing this analysis, you will discover what it failed to do.

Ask yourself the question: Did we reach our targets? If so, be sure to document the results and the actions taken that generated those positive results. If you fell short of your goals, be sure to ask WHY they were not attained. Was it the lack of attention, execution, planning, direction, or some other factor that did not allow the operations to reach those goals according to the marketing strategy? This analysis should give you an initial indication of just how well your marketing strategy worked and is working during this key time of year.

The next step is to closely examine all facets of your marketing strategy, including key elements such as product pricing, merchandising, promotion and department standards. In terms of pricing, did you do your best to observe the competition and stick to your pricing strategy as it pertains to promotional items versus regular retails?

In terms of produce, it is critical to determine if the gist of everything your operation is trying to accomplish is actually working as intended.

Determining if you achieved the proper balance between promotional pricing and regular pricing will go a long way in determining the success of your strategy. Closely review the reports from your field merchandisers, as well as your own store visits, to ascertain if your merchandising direction and plan was being executed as designed. This goes along with the overall condition of the department and adherence to established standards in terms of overall presentation of the department and its potential for success. This is a critical area that can derail the best laid plans if it is not executed properly, potentially sabotaging the success of the overall strategy.

Finally, examine your promotional activity to be sure you have the right balance of key seasonal items, as well as those vital items that drive both volume and dollar sales. Determine if the right items were selected and priced properly to generate the maximum amount of sales momentum. These key items should be designed not only to drive overall sales but also to generate additional sales throughout the department on complementary and associated items.

Finally, and ultimately most importantly, be sure to determine some way to measure customer perception. This will not be easy, as it is extremely hard to measure, but simply talk with customers and ask them their opinions on what your operation is doing to assist them in shopping produce and their overall satisfaction with how you are executing your plans. In addition, you can check with the customers to see if your efforts are helping to improve the overall perception by the customer, of not just the produce department, but the entire store. Ultimately, this is one of the major factors of any marketing strategy and is one of the key aspects to be gained by your marketing efforts. If this can be achieved, and the produce department and overall store perception is improved, it will go a long way to creating the success of your marketing strategy.

The ultimate goal of this analysis is not only to determine the success of your present marketing strategy, but to also determine which concepts to select for inclusion in future marketing strategies and what concepts that proved to be unsuccessful should be discarded. This review will point out both the good and bad aspects of the initial strategy and allow you to expand on and take advantage of the successes and avoid the pitfalls created by unsuccessful concepts.

The innovative retailer uses this examination of their marketing strategy to refine its appeal and enhance its impact on the success of the produce operation. Once again, this activity will take a substantial amount of effort, time, and dedication by the produce staff to execute, but the rewards far outweigh the cost. This could be the springboard to moving your operation to the next level.

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