Following the Easter holiday, the strategy meetings that management schedules concentrate on other departments, not produce. This is because summer is coming and produce dominates the promotional scene, and the other departments are pressing to get their fair share of promotional space.
I have often suggested in these meetings to promote produce more heavily following Easter to build momentum heading into the summer season. Most times the suggestion was met by a dull stare from management. Their reply: “You will get your chance starting with Memorial Day.” As usual, management lacks the vision to see that they just don’t get it.
Through the years, each time produce promotional activity began in earnest following Easter, the activity was met with success, and ultimately resulted in a tremendously successful “produce selling season.” This type of promotional activity serves two purposes. First, it reintroduces the customer to the wide variety and excellent quality available from key spring crops such as asparagus, berries, cherries, apricots, early-season grapes, artichokes and new crop lettuces. Secondly, it helps change the mindset of customers. Promoting produce aggressively the six weeks following Easter and before Memorial Day builds substantial momentum in produce sales going into the key summer selling period.
The major point of competition here is with the other departments that want additional advertising space. The question becomes, “which strategy provides for a better return for the entire store?” It is no secret that innovative and successful retailers recognize the power of produce in terms of driving overall sales not only in the department, but also in the entire store. These retailers have used the succession of new crops to build upon each other as building blocks of momentum. They give the illusion that something new is in the produce department each week, driving customers to additional consumption and preparing them for the abundance of produce available during the summer months. Time and time again, successful retailers have the enviable problem of obtaining enough produce during the summer season to meet the demand that has been built up by the early produce promotion following Easter.
Promoting produce aggressively the six weeks following Easter and before Memorial Day builds substantial momentum in produce sales going into the key summer selling period.
Any number of strategies can be used during this build-up toward summer, including BOGO’s or multiple sales units promoted on key spring crops. Another successful tactic is to use specific price points to identify key items. It makes no difference what strategy executives utilize, as they all have their benefits, and some may work better in one location than others. The goal is to get customers thinking about what is coming next.
We recognize this type of promotional activity will have a cost associated with it in terms of margin on these key spring items. However, the benefits of driving early-season sales and building substantial sales momentum heading into the summer far outweigh the small cost associated with these types of promotions in the weeks following Easter. History has shown — and successful retailers have recognized — the use of this pre-summer promotional activity nearly always ensures a record-breaking produce season for the summer.
This type of promotional activity drives a store’s overall results and enhances the other departments’ seasonal promotions, including barbeque season, outdoor activities, and floral and garden opportunities. In addition, promoting produce after Easter shapes the perception that the store is a destination where customers can find anything they may need. Given all this, it makes sense to promote produce after Easter, not wait for Memorial Day.
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 [email protected].