Retailer Convenience Versus Freshness

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Don Harris - Retail PerspectiveA topic that seems to dominate conversations in merchandising meetings is one that debates the merits of the expansion of convenience-oriented‭, ‬value-added processed produce items‭. ‬Though an old debate‭, ‬it has been renewed as new products are introduced by processors around the country‭.‬

Management tends to be on the side of‭ ‬“the more the better”‭ ‬when it comes to the utilization‭, ‬promotion and displaying of these products‭. ‬Produce has taken a somewhat different position‭. ‬A smart produce retailer has to weigh the benefits in terms of consumer convenience versus the overall appeal of the department‭.‬‭ ‬Management doesn’t seem to grasp the distinction and once again proves that it just doesn’t get it‭.‬

The best utilization of value-added convenient produce items has been a concern of produce operators for quite some time‭. ‬While‭ ‬there are many excellent attributes to these new products‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬ease of preparation and use‭, ‬time-saving aspects for the customer and new items for customers to try‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬there are some aspects that are troubling‭. ‬By their nature‭, ‬these convenient items display easily on upright multi-shelf cases‭, ‬increasing efficiency and use of space‭. ‬However‭, ‬“eye appeal”‭ ‬is one most often seen in the non-fresh areas of the store‭. ‬While it still contains produce‭, ‬it does not add to the perception‭ ‬for overall attractive ambience of traditional fresh produce‭. ‬There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck between the benefits of this value-added product and the overall appeal to the consumer in the produce department‭.‬

The ease of display and efficient use of space represented by these convenience items also presents a challenge‭. ‬By their nature‭, ‬they require less space than fresh items‭. ‬This puts increasing pressure on planning the space allocated to produce departments‭. ‬In fact‭, ‬some retailers who are rapidly expanding their convenience/value-added sections are decreasing the size of the overall produce presentation‭. ‬A secondary part of this equation is the attractive aspect of the ability to price these products at a level that returns excellent margins‭.‬

“The innovative retailer will consider how to maintain the universal appeal of fresh‭, ‬bulk produce while taking advantage of consumers’‭ ‬desire for convenience items that save them time in terms of preparation and consumption‭.”

The consumer has no idea what the price should be‭, ‬or even a range of pricing‭. ‬This is certainly part of the relationship between the industry trends of increasing dollars‭, ‬sales and declining volume sales‭. ‬The ability to sell 8‭ ‬ounces of value-added produce for‭ $‬2.99‭ ‬at a healthy margin is attractive to produce operators‭, ‬given the pressure to deliver gross profit and satisfy management’s‭ ‬“grocery mentality‭.‬”‭ ‬For the forward-thinking retailer‭, ‬this is a situation that requires attention to strike the proper balance to get the best of‭ ‬both worlds‭.‬

This age-old debate has been involved in the ebb and flow between packaged and bulk produce for sometime and is now becoming increasingly important for produce operations‭. ‬The innovative retailer will consider how to maintain the universal appeal of fresh‭,‬‭ ‬bulk produce while taking advantage of consumers’‭ ‬desire for convenience items that save them time in terms of preparation and consumption‭. ‬It’s not an easy decision and will have long-term effects on the success and growth of the produce operation‭, ‬as well as the size of the department and the consumer’s perception of the store‭. ‬We must remember that the driving principle for differentiation of the store’s produce department was the abundance of fresh produce available in one location‭. ‬In today’s technological world and the hectic pace of life‭, ‬we must continue to utilize our best asset in terms of consumer appeal‭.‬

Across all generations‭, ‬there is the universal appeal of a fresh produce display‭. ‬We must be able to utilize these fresh commodities alongside convenient‭, ‬value-added products to offer consumers what they need‭, ‬while still maintaining the‭ ‬“fresh”‭ ‬perception of the produce department and the entire store‭. ‬The retailers who strike this balance will reap the benefits‭.‬

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