Maximize Counter-seasonal Sales

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of Produce Business.

As we approach the end of the year, we must adjust our way of thinking as to the source or sources of our fresh produce items to stock in our produce departments over the next few months. This action requires a changing of our mindset from the production in our own hemisphere to the “counter seasons” in the southern hemisphere. Over the years we have become more and more aware of the opportunities available from outside the country during our winter season.

Because of this knowledge we have been able to expand our offerings during these traditionally slower months and continued to drive sales of traditional “summer items” during the winter months. Management’s focus during this period is to concentrate on the complete stocking of the department to maintain sales during the holiday season and ignores any opportunities that may be represented during this time. By choosing to not recognize the potential represented by imported produce during this crucial time of the year, management once again proves that “they just don’t get it!”

The successful produce retailer explores every possible source of produce from outside of North America to assist in their search for sales during the holiday periods and into the winter season. Imported produce has become a larger and larger part of our sales potential and has allowed us to expand the seasons of many items that were considered only seasonal or summer items. A good first step is to review the historic trends in your department as it relates to the availability and continuity of supplies and varieties you have previously stocked. However, this is not a time to rely only on what you have done previously or “go to sleep” and leave your operation on autopilot from previous years. Each year the variety of imported produce increases as well as the quality and availability of new supplies from different production areas.

As in our own North American production, these multiple sources of imported produce are also busy developing new varieties and new production techniques to increase the opportunities and volume of products that are vital to the continued expansion of sales during this period. I challenge you and your buyers to develop strategies that take advantage of all this opportunity to develop a strategy that puts your operation in the forefront of developing a continuous offering of a vast variety of produce commodities.

Always check for any activity from the marketing groups in these various countries promoting their product to be important and advising of any promotional support that is available to drive movement. Once again, this is an arena where the more knowledge you have of the operations of these various exporting countries and areas the better; you’ll be able to take advantage of the opportunities and get ahead of your competition.

Once you have prepared a strategy of what commodities you will obtain from which area, then you must prepare your departments and provide them with the direction that will help them to utilize these commodities to drive sales. This will include revamping your space allocation to make room for the displays of these “counter-seasonal” products. It may include the retention of larger displays of items such as grapes, soft fruit, melons, and other items where displays have been seasonally reduced. Consideration should be made for utilizing any promotional activity offered by the imported produce industry to prepare special teams during the winter such as tropical and summertime themes.

By utilizing the unique nature of having these summer items during the winter, you can provide your customers with displays that will entice them to make additional buys of items they thought were gone until next summer. Be sure to utilize any new items or new packs from important sources to help to further expand the offering for your customers.

All these actions combined will allow you to have an enticing offering of all the fresh produce available both from the northern hemisphere as well as summer items from the southern hemisphere. Your reward will be increase perception of everything in production anywhere in the world being available in your department to spark consumer interest and drive sales.

By utilizing all these opportunities represented by imported produce, you will have taken advantage of using these commodities to not only maintain but increase sales momentum during the holiday season. It provides you with the ammunition you will need to entice customers to buy and combat the seasonal preoccupation with Christmas giving. If you don’t take advantage of these offerings and incorporate them into your operation, you will fall victim to the traditional holiday slowdown and forfeit the initiative to your competitors.

This result is one that no successful, innovative produce retailer would allow his operation to follow. Avoid the “trap” of doing the same thing as last year. Take advantage of the each and every possible opportunity and area available to you to utilize the wide variety of imported produce. This action provides the impetus to finish 2021 on a strong note and carry sales momentum into the beginning of the new year.

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