Produce Displays: Transcending Functionality

Photo courtesy of Price Chopper

How changing up the look in store and adding mobility can move more fruits and vegetables.

The art of display is becoming a more prominent factor in today’s produce department. As stores’ physical space isn’t expanding, retailers are trying to squeeze more stock-keeping units into the same limited departmental capacity while creating new shopping traffic patterns. Retailers are erecting new types of displays and are also investing in refrigerated displays.

Because produce is the most vivid and colorful product in grocery stores, it requires color-correct lighting to show its full potential.

“The produce department has the color, texture and fun shapes and sizes that draw shoppers to want to pick up and touch the product,” says Marjorie Proctor, marketing and design specialist with Dover Food Retail, headquartered in Conyers, GA. Whether displayed in a refrigerated case or a dry produce display, creative inserts can be used to create a feeling of bountifulness and freshness. “Produce can be displayed in graceful striking patterns, pyramidal forms or neatly partitioned bins to tidy rows, and keep product organized to help trigger impulse buying and discover the great diversity in the produce department,” she says.

The importance of produce displays and the refrigerated equipment used to store and keep product fresh shouldn’t be overlooked when a retailer reviews the merchandising strategy. 

“The produce category typically drives a shopper’s perception of a grocery retailer’s ‘freshness’ and ‘quality’ proposition,” says Harry Newton, director of sales and marketing for Structural Plastics Corp., which is based in Holly, MI. “Well-designed and fabricated produce displays that are fast — ones easy to assemble and versatile — provide an efficient solution for creating innovative produce merchandise presentations, promotions and cross-sell storytelling opportunities that help increase store traffic, sales and build loyal customers.” 

Highlighting the sensitive products is important to the overall produce operation in terms of maintaining freshness. “Keeping the produce at the correct temperatures and the displays offering the ability to better present the produce for quicker turns are both very important with refrigeration,” says Gaines Chamberlain, business development manager for Blanc Display Group, based in Dover, NJ.

Space needs to be allocated efficiently. “One of the biggest opportunities I see is people using their vertical space effectively,” says Jonathan Raduns, retail strategy and food merchandising advisor with Merchandise Food LLC, in Cherry Hill, NJ. “When you think about Manhattan real estate, we need to think of every square inch to create impressions and impact and drive peoples’ purchasing behavior. I see a lot of that space being used ineffectively, especially in spaces that have limited refrigeration. Sometimes, there’s a lot of wasted space gapping between shelves.”

Displays can serve as sales representatives. “There are missed opportunities in produce,” says Chris Schotsman, vice president of sales and marketing for Cayuga Displays, Ontario, Canada. “We leave the customers to their own devices. Nobody is actually selling something to them.” By showing what produce items can help with health issues such as diabetes, Schotsman notes how displays can help promote produce’s health benefits. “There are many new produce items, ethnic items, etc., that people have no clue how to use or eat,” he says. Staff and/or informational signage can assist shoppers, says Schotsman.

As people eat with their eyes, if the display is attractive and possesses all the elements of signage information, pricing and accessories, it will help promote sales, says Schotsman. “However, it goes hand-in-hand with proper operations,” he says. “The best display is worthless if the operations team isn’t merchandising properly and rotating the stock.”

Beauty In The Eye Of The Beholder

According to Troy White, vice president of retail store equipment supplier H.A. Hammer, Inc., Chesterfield, MO, “We are hearing more and more out of retailers that they want touch points and sidelines. [Retailers] are always trying to come up with new ideas. They all sell the exact same product. That tomato may be the same shape and color, but every retailer has a different idea on how to make that tomato sell better. You come up with a great idea for one retailer. When you take it to another, it’s not the way they want to sell tomatoes.”

Retailers can benefit from new features available in display items that weren’t around a decade ago.

“There used to be a mentality in the industry that one size fits all,” says Chamberlain. “As the years have progressed and as more retailers want to differentiate themselves from their competitors, there has been a lot of innovation in fixturing and displays. There are a lot of retailers utilizing multi-deck cases that present the products in a better way, along with customized displays that are unique and allows them to stand out from their competitors.”

The changes in equipment availability help better display produce. “There are more displays that are used to feature certain items, says Chamberlain. “They are customized to the specific retailer to deliver their brand message and what they want to deliver for each category.”

Many new features are available that weren’t around in the most recent years. Display cases are much more energy efficient than they were 10 years ago, even more than a year ago, notes Proctor.  With the energy savings offered by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)-compliant refrigerated display cases, food retailers are seeing energy savings with new merchandisers.  

Some of the improvements made to new display cases include upgraded LED lighting, improved fan motor efficiency and increasing coil efficiency. “Ten years ago, we refrigerated the entire cavity of a display case,” says Proctor. “Today, we have ‘air management,’ which allows for air to be focused over refrigerated products.  By today’s standards we also have better insulating materials to make cases more efficient. This provides the advantage for removing anti-sweat heaters in open merchandisers. All of these modifications help to make the refrigerated display cases of today far more superior with energy efficiency.” 

Going Mobile

The produce department is going more mobile. “We are seeing more of the spot merchandising, the specialty cases that retailers can move around or create destination points,” says White. “Because they are on casters, we are seeing them moving around the department. Instead of having the same shopping pattern, retailers are coming up with different shopping patterns. With refrigerated spot merchandising, where they can move the displays around from place to place within the department, they can promote different products in different ways.”

New designs can prompt existing shoppers to consider purchasing higher-margin items. “Our displays can be made mobile and come in a wide range of sizes, so they’re good for filling gaps and taking advantage of selling opportunities on the produce floor,” says Structural Plastics’ Newton. “Mobile tilt-top displays are used to promote special seasonal produce and can be used to cross merchandise produce with companion products.” For example, fresh seasonal strawberries can be merchandised with shortcake and whipped cream and positioned within the produce department, or entry or vestibule areas.  

Mobile displays offer more flexibility. “Flexible fixtures that can be moved around, allowing the department to have flexibility and mobility so they can quickly refresh the department’s look and layout on the fly, create a differentiated and updated experience for shoppers on a more regular basis,” says Merchandise Food’s Raduns. “That’s why people are using more of the bins and bin types. They can be oriented in different ways and shopped 360 degrees.”

The flexibility provided by mobile displays can help merchandising. “Smaller mobile units reduce product shrink but also ‘interrupt the customer’ and encourage sales,” says Cayuga Display’s Schotsman. “Cross-merchandising and incorporating multi-tier shelves is also popular. As stores become smaller, vertical merchandising becomes more important. Displays are important from a sales presentation standpoint. That’s why angled displays and various pod designs are popular to create a nice visual effect.”


Lighting assists with maintaining product integrity and highlights the products being merchandised.

“Lighting color temperature, saturation properties, distribution patterns and placement are all properties of lighting that should be considered to take a produce department from mediocre to creating a department that has a ‘wow’ factor and conveys fresh produce,” says Dover Food Retail’s Proctor. “The No. 1 thing for lighting in produce is having the right ambient lighting. Many times, this is the first department shoppers walk through and it should be designed so all the elements, ambient lighting, case lighting, merchandising displays and product types, work together to create a welcoming first impression.”

Lighting with the right temperature is key. “Overall lighting in the department is very important,” says Schotsman. “Not enough time is spent on that. You need to draw the eyes to the product. Make it pop, but also make it light enough that people can see. Some produce departments have gotten too dark.”

New Uses

As the look of displays and refrigerated equipment in produce departments change, produce displays help with new areas. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of grocery retailers that are expanding their product mix and getting into ‘live goods’ product sales,” says Newton.  “We’ve evolved our displays to help grocers such as H-E-B, Stop & Shop/Giant, Kroger, Shop Rite, and many more, create seasonal outdoor Front Porch Live Goods shops and farmers markets. Live goods displayed on the front porch is a great way to pull customers into the store and generate an entirely new and profitable revenue stream.”


Although more stores want to add refrigerated displays, DOE rules make displaying produce in refrigerated displays more challenging. “We are seeing more and more requirements on refrigeration,” says Troy White, vice president of retail store equipment supplier H.A. Hammer, Inc., Chesterfield MO. “Cases have to possess certain energy efficiencies. It’s a battle to use existing DOE-approved equipment. With sightlines low, it’s challenging to come up with solutions. They’re getting product closer and closer to the floor. One can design anything, but not everyone has the money to pay for energy and time.”

Efficiency is an important consideration produce merchandisers should keep in mind when recommending display and refrigerated equipment to operations. “Make sure they are cost-effective for the operators and very practical and easy to use,” says Gaines Chamberlain, business development manager for Blanc Display Group, Dover, NJ.

Breakout Features Help

Jonathan Raduns, retail strategy and food merchandising advisor with Merchandise Food LCC in Cherry Hill, NJ, says innovative fixtures definitely can make a difference.

In many ways, while retailers take different approaches, much of the equipment is standardized or common at this point. When I see a customized fixture, I find it compelling. It communicates something different or some uniqueness about the retailer. It’s certainly an opportunity to differentiate yourself, because so many of the standardized equipment manufacturers have similar types of catalog items.”

To attract shopper interest and keep sales moving, designs must be inventive. “Innovative designs are very important for produce merchandisers,” says Harry Newton, director of sales and marketing for Structural Plastics Corp., Holly, MI. “Today’s shopper has more choices and options than ever before to buy produce. To pull shoppers into stores, it is imperative that produce merchandisers create fun, inspiring and engaging produce departments that connect, educate and pull shoppers in. Produce is a key point of difference for most grocery retailers. It is usually the main department or category that shoppers use to determine the freshness and quality of the store and brand.”

It’s critical that retailers change up their displays by producing attention-grabbing displays. “This is key to catching consumers’ attention and giving them something new to see versus the same displays or fixtures that they have seen for an extended time,” says Gaines Chamberlain, business development manager for Blanc Display Group, based in Dover, NJ. “Adding something new, whether it be a different way to sign a department or updated fixturing, will give the department a fresh look and the store an ability to feature categories that are most relevant to their consumers.”

While angled Euro tables, which are accessible from predominantly one direction, were once more popular in produce departments, retailers are moving more to 360-degree shoppable pods, bins or risers on top of bins, which allows shoppers to move around the display more effectively, says Raduns. “It’s a more common practice from my observation in this decade, or in recent years,” he says. “I can see people reverting to an angled approach and some of these other fixtures just to be different because things seem to cycle.”

New designs can help move existing shoppers to higher margin items. “Product placement and the correct point-of-sale materials are very effective,” says Chamberlain. “Innovative designs are very important and are what will drive future sales at retail.”