Changes of Season

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Don Harris - Retail PerspectiveAs summer fades into fall‭, ‬discussions in the Monday morning staff meetings turned to the changing of the seasons and the need to‭ ‬change merchandising direction‭. ‬At this time‭, ‬management generally focuses on the need to move the merchandising strategy toward the upcoming holidays‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬Thanksgiving and Christmas‭. ‬Most departments are in general agreement with this type of approach‭; ‬however‭, ‬produce has different requirements‭, ‬as usual‭. ‬Management makes the decision to move into the fall and winter seasons rapidly to be ready for the holidays‭. ‬Once again‭, ‬management demonstrates‭ ‬“they just don’t get it”‭!‬

There has been a transition during the past 20‭ ‬years to more high-quality late-season fruit‭, ‬grapes‭, ‬and melon varieties that extended the season for the summertime items‭. ‬Because of this factor and the increased numbers of these new products‭, ‬there has become an increasing need to expand the selling season for these fruits and melons‭.‬

Instead of September and October becoming months to‭ ‬“flip the switch”‭ ‬and jump into winter merchandising‭, ‬this time period became one more transitional move from full summer merchandising to a combination of late-summer‭, ‬early-fall merchandising‭. ‬It is a unique combination of the promotion of fine tasting quality fruit‭, ‬grapes‭, ‬and melon items with the harvest of new crop apples‭, ‬pears‭, ‬and citrus commodities‭.

To be successful during this transition‭, ‬one must think of ways to combine the unique salable and promotional benefits offered by this unusual combination of produce items‭. ‬It requires the blending of promotional emphasis on each side of the equation‭. ‬Perhaps it means joint displays of new crop apples and the late-season fruit‭.

Maybe it would require the display of fall squash along with the late-season melons‭. ‬You could even include new crop pears and late season grapes‭. ‬It would seem like during this transition‭, ‬any innovative or unique solution could be considered‭. ‬The key point is to ensure the display and promotional activity is equally divided among all the varieties and items‭.‬

To be successful during this transition, one must think of unique ways to combine the unique salable and promotional benefits offered by this unusual combination of produce items.

Over the years‭, ‬we conditioned the customers to buy what we presented on display‭. ‬Because we utilize the quick changeover of the‭ ‬seasons‭, ‬the customers dutifully forgot about the items they were purchasing in order to purchase the new ones on display‭. ‬As easily as we conditioned them to accept the quick switch-over‭, ‬we could show them a new way to purchase many late season summer favorites while embracing the new crops as they come on the scene‭. ‬It will be up to our discretion to present for their purchase‭ ‬the widest variety of late-season and new crop items available‭.‬

This type of merchandising would certainly be different than anything they experienced‭, ‬and it also would add an element of new‭ ‬and exciting discovery during a time that had been dominated by a quick change to fall merchandising‭. ‬This approach would certainly prove to be exceptional and identify your operation as a forward-looking‭, ‬innovative retailer making the most of the wide variety of produce available during this unique time of the year‭.‬

This type of thinking could become the norm if more retailers would look into maintaining sales momentum from the key summer season as long as possible‭. ‬It could also be utilized as a transition from domestic fruit‭, ‬grapes‭, ‬and melons into the imported supplies available during the winter months‭. ‬All in all‭, ‬this transitional strategy as opposed to a quick changeover is a win-win situation for all sides of the equation‭.‬

Adopting this strategy not only maintains the momentum of sales built up through the summer for the retailer‭, ‬but it also helps‭ ‬to move the late-season crops of fruit‭, ‬grapes‭, ‬and melons for the growers‭. ‬It introduces the customer to these newly developed‭,‬‭ ‬great-tasting varieties that were introduced in the past few years‭.‬

This combination of benefits is somewhat unique in the industry‭, ‬because it represents a new way of looking at the last months of the year to enable all operations to finish their respective seasons on a successful note‭. ‬For the retailer‭, ‬it allows the continuation of the sales drive that began in the late spring into the fall and ultimately the end of the year‭.

It is this type of opportunity that allows each operation to reach the goals that were set for the year while maintaining a steady pace of growth in sales and the overall operation‭. ‬This type of growth is much easier to maintain than the up and down cycles‭ ‬normally experienced during this time of year‭.‬

While change is sometimes difficult in the produce industry‭, ‬this type of change in strategy during this transitional season may‭ ‬well provide an excellent solution for all parties involved‭. ‬This different type of thinking can spur growth in sales‭, ‬profits‭,‬‭ ‬and operational efficiencies that can help any operation reach and surpass its goals

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 and is director of produce for the Chicago-based food charity organization, Feeding America. Comments can be directed to editor@‬