Impulse Buying… A Key to Success

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the June 2021 issue of Produce Business.

As the economy begins to reopen and restrictions are easing throughout the country, now is the time to look strategically at how to maintain and accelerate sales momentum in the produce operation. We all recognize that the situations helping to spur sales growth during the pandemic are changing and will have less affect upon our sales. Management believes, and will continue to pressure produce operations, to generate the same types of sales increases that were prevalent during the pandemic. The reopening of the economy, especially in the foodservice sector, will result in pressure on retail sales due to the resurrection and reopening of many restaurants and foodservice outlets.

While it may be possible to retain some of these sales, there certainly will be an erosion of the gains that have been realized over the past year. Therefore, we must look at ways to continue the sales gains as we move forward and anticipate strategies that will help us to defer the pressure that is certain to be exerted on the produce operation by upper management. This pressure and uncompromising attitude concerning our situation only goes to show that “they just don’t get it!”

In order to maintain and continue to drive sales momentum going forward, we will need to utilize one of the key aspects that has always helped to move produce sales forward. That aspect is “impulse buying” by the consumer. The first thing that needs to be done is to entice customers back into the physical produce department within the store. During the pandemic, we are all saw an increase in online grocery orders, which were then either delivered or picked up at the store. Early results and indications have shown that these orders have a lesser percent of produce items than when the customer shops in-store.

Examination will need to be done to formulate actions that will encourage and entice shoppers to return to the store. It will take some focused effort and innovative thinking to show the benefits of shopping in the store as opposed ordering online. This is a vital action that will be necessary if our produce operations are to continue to grow and utilize the opportunities represented by impulse buying.

Given that the pandemic provided us with consumers preparing more meals at home, we can continue to capitalize on this benefit by providing the best possible experience for the consumers when they return to the store for their produce needs.

Impulse buying has been around and utilized by the produce operations of retail from the very beginning of selling fresh produce. Impulse is defined as “a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act and also as a driving or motivating force that provides the impetus to action”. Produce as a product is naturally gifted in terms of motivating such perception. The central appeal of produce is in its natural beauty, its intoxicating aroma, and its nutritional abundance. All these factors combine to make the presentation of fresh produce naturally enticing to consumers and provides strong motivation for making additional purchases.

Many studies have shown that consumers rarely have produce items on their shopping list by name and rely on “what looks good today” when they enter the department. Because we have conditioned the consumers to utilize their senses, especially their eyes, sense of smell, and touch and feel to shop for fresh produce, the presentation of our products in the retail store is of vital importance. It goes without saying, that the “better the produce looks, the better it sells.” Therefore, the quality and freshness of the produce offering is essential in establishing its value to the consumer.

Successful retailers must be certain that they are doing everything possible to attract customers back into the store and present their produce offerings in such an appealing manner that they can take advantage of the maximum amount of impulse buying. While some may disagree with the contention that people will return to the stores if they are properly motivated, early research shows that there is a pent-up desire by consumers to return to stores as it provides a sense of “normalcy” returning to their lives.

It is obvious that we must counteract the erosion of sales returning to the foodservice sector by reinforcing our efforts to offer customers an enticing reason to return to the retail store and revel in the abundance and beauty offered in the produce department. Given that the pandemic provided us with consumers preparing more meals at home, we can continue to capitalize on this benefit by providing the best possible experience for the consumers when they return to the store for their produce needs.

The successful retailer will be the one that provides irresistible reasons for returning to the store and provides an outstanding presentation to maximize produce impulse buying. Without this key aspect of sales generation, we will be hard-pressed to maintain our industry sales momentum as we exit the pandemic and return to a more normal world.

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