As 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@