Last Chance to Speak Up

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the November 2021 issue of Produce Business.

As the leaves begin to fall and the beginning of winter’s chill descends upon the marketplace, discussions during staff meetings turn to the last major “Food” holiday of the year and how best to capture as many of these food-related dollars as possible.

Upper management always likes to review what has been done in previous years that proved to be successful and tend to base the plans for the upcoming season on those previous successes. Little thought is usually given to any new or “out of the box” strategies to address the opportunities represented by this season.

As usual, the conversation turns to the importance of turkeys, prime rib, and other meat entrées as well as bakery items concentrating on pumpkin and mince pies. Conversation about produce items is usually limited to what can they do to support the featured items from the meat and bakery departments. This preoccupation with past successes and old promotional items shows once again that when it comes to planning for a food holiday, upper management “just doesn’t get it!”

During this planning session is a time for the aggressive produce retailer to impress upon his superiors the opportunities for sales represented by all items in the produce department. It is not enough to just promote items that complement the other elements of the holiday feast, but it is necessary to utilize the entire produce department to entice consumers to buy more items for their holiday celebration.

To further emphasize this point, attention should be directed to key seasonal fruit items as well as those unusual or less traditional items. By utilizing the “Food” focus for this holiday, we can capture additional sales by enticing consumers’ need to have a truly festive holiday gathering. Given what everyone has faced during this COVID pandemic, this upcoming Thanksgiving holiday should provide us with increased consumer interest and demand for enticing and flavorful meal components and fresh produce certainly fills the bill.

It is vital that the produce executive at these management meetings speak up about promoting all the items in his/her department that can help to generate additional holiday sales.

Just imagine all the promotional opportunities throughout the produce department that can be utilized to drive sales and satisfy consumer needs and wants. Why not promote all varieties of berries as holiday fare and stress the abundance and versatility of a wide variety of apples, pears, and citrus to add unique flair to the mix of holiday offerings? Why can’t the entire family of root vegetables and squash be utilized during the meal instead of just the tried-and-true potatoes and onions? Shouldn’t we consider, as part of the plan, utilizing any local product still available to add a local flavor to the proceedings?

Additional sales are represented by all the items necessary for a fresh green salad (tomatoes, avocados, head and all variety lettuces, cucumbers, radishes and green onions, etc.), as well as the utilization and promotion of the wide variety of premade salads and convenient fresh-cut vegetables and fruits to further complement the main meal. It is vital that the produce executive at these meetings speak up about promoting all the items in his/her department that can help to generate additional sales. Many of the most innovative and successful retailers utilize this inclusive strategy for the Thanksgiving holiday season to drive their holiday sales.

Another area that should not be overlooked is support from the industry in terms of promotional activity for various commodities and products. Many of the promotional committees for various produce items offer support for the utilization of their products. In addition, many of these promotional entities often introduce new items or expansion of their selection for the holiday season, and these offerings should not be overlooked. This is an area that is often paid little attention to or even ignored, especially when presented to upper management. It is just another tool to help drive sales and present the consumer with the widest possible selection of fresh produce products to prepare a memorable holiday event.

“Stick to your guns” and be sure that your recommendations and proposals are heard and taken seriously! Remember, this is your last chance to drive fresh produce sales before the consumer preoccupation with the Christmas season sets in. This is your opportunity to help management shake off their preoccupation with the past and old ways of promoting this holiday and move forward into a new innovative path to capture all potential sales available.

By taking this positive action in the planning phase of the Thanksgiving holiday promotional activity, you can influence the overall planning and become a greater complement, and in some cases a driver of the holiday sales along with your other perishable departments in the store. Given produce’s sterling track record of generating additional sales, when properly promoted, your presentation should convince management to utilize the opportunity fresh produce represents to utilize and incorporate your products in the successful execution of their new, innovative holiday promotional plan.

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