Learn effective merchandising methods that lead to success.
Originally printed in the June 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Selling fresh produce is a lot like a fashion show. When customers walk into the department, retailers want them to focus on the fruits and vegetables for sale rather than the fixtures on which these fresh foods are displayed. Like fashion, too, if a model doesn’t present the apparel at its best, or a fixture fails at its eye-catching presentation job, the result can be a lost sale.
That’s why retail merchandising display designers are looking at how customers shop, what they are buying and how retailers want to present for maximum sales. Behind the scenes, they are also looking at how displays can help save on labor.
“There are two things that will sell more produce,” says James Countouris, who handles sales at LemonTree Products, in Erin, ON, Canada. “Lower the price or make it more attractive.”
Here are six top trends in produce displays and how to realize them in-store.
1. CREATE AN OPEN MARKET FEEL
Long tall cases and islands are being replaced by shorter fixtures, and several of them in the produce department. This lets customers walk in, see everything and easily shop the bountiful offerings.
“Lower profile displays are something we look for,” says Jeff Cady, who oversees about 10 store remodels annually as director of produce and floral at Tops Friendly Markets, a 149-store chain based in Williamsville, NY.
Plus, some say smaller fixtures, both in height, length and width, offer more space for customers to shop and to do so from all sides.
“The trend 10 years ago was long, wide island displays. They’d be filled to the brim and exploding in produce. Today, people shop more often. In cities, it could be daily. So instead of mega dumps of products on large pieces, we’re seeing a greater demand for shorter and narrow displays where produce is replenished more often and customers can easily reach in,” says LemonTree’s Countouris.
The company’s modular Island Tables have inner sections of 2.5- and 4-foot lengths, with three width options and 2.5-foot end sections, which can combine to create customized produce displays to fit an array of store configurations. Similarly, Market Tables in sizes from 30×30 inches to 4×2.5 feet can be mixed and matched to create display sets, both in the produce department and in front of the store for warm-weather seasonal merchandising. These fixtures are non-refrigerated.
Starting in 2019, Walmart revamped the produce departments in its 3,000-plus supercenters by rolling out low-profile display bins to create an open market feel, according to a November 2019 blog post on the retailer’s website by Charles Redfield, chief merchandising officer. These bins are abundantly filled with colorful produce, like ripe red tomatoes and seasonal items like pumpkin and squash and are designed to spotlight freshness and quality of the produce. This was part of the Bentonville, AR-headquartered chain’s self-proclaimed Produce 2.0 merchandising reset.
2. GO MODULAR & MOBILE
Forget cookie-cutter plan-o-grams carved in stone. Today, retailers want to be able to change the configuration of the department and direct traffic flow past seasonal, sale and spectacularly cross-merchandised displays of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Interruptive merchandising gets a customer to stop at displays they hadn’t planned,” says Paul Kneeland, senior vice president of sales and merchandising for Gelson’s, a 27-store chain headquartered in Encino, CA. “It is a departure from the flow planning that many stores use that makes everything linear. It does create excitement — especially if you change it up regularly.”
Modular mobility makes this easy.
“We’re using a lot more mobile refrigerated displays,” says Tops’ Cady. “For example, rolling one over to the whole watermelon display and tying in fresh-cut watermelon.”
Fresh-cut and value-added products, as well as fresh juices, are something customers seek out more now in produce, thus making refrigerated mobile merchandisers a must, says Chris Schotsman, vice president of sales and marketing for Cayuga Displays, in Cayuga, ON, Canada. “We’re seeing more refrigeration on the floor as opposed to five shelf units on the wall where produce can easily get lost.”
The company’s refrigerated Fresh Go Bins, which are self-contained and plug into a 115V dedicated circuit, come in 3×3 or 4×4 single pods, or double pods, with the options of a shelf and signage at the top. The 9-inch high merchandising area on top maintains a critical product temperature of 38-41 degrees F.
Schotsman tells that Giant Tiger Stores, a 260-store Canadian discount retailer headquartered in Ottawa, uses Cayuga’s Fresh Go Bins for grapes and berries. In the U.S., he says a ShopRite store in New Jersey, one of over 300 stores under the Keasbey, NJ-based Wakefern Food Corp., has used these bins for a caprese salad station, with fresh mozzarella in refrigeration, cross-merchandised with oils, and tomatoes and fresh basil right next to the display.
Now, “we’ve started to see a switch to natural refrigerants,” says Schotsman. “Our Fresh Go Bins feature environmentally friendly R-513A refrigerant that’s non-ozone depleting and has a low global warming potential.”
Beyond mobile and modular, there is a movement for more products to be displayed behind the closed doors of a refrigerated wall case, says Jack Sjogren, western region design center specialist for Dover Food Retail, in El Dorado Hills, CA.
“Packaged berries, cut fruit, fresh juices and other items like fresh salsa and guacamole work especially well merchandised like this. A benefit is keeping the aisle warmer with no spillover air. When customers are more comfortable, studies have shown they stay in that aisle and shop longer.”
3. GO FOR GOLDILOCKS FULL DISPLAYS
No one likes to buy the last one of something on the shelf. Yet, overstocking can lead to excessive shrinkage. However, the just-right Goldilocks of ‘full’ might be 10 units displayed on a Monday or Tuesday and double this on a busier Friday or Saturday. One way to make produce shelves always look packed with produce is with Blanc Display Group’s new SMT pusher tray system.
“The system offers a fast way to pull produce forward and face it on the shelf,” says Dave Lyons, marketing and creative director for the Blanc Display Group, in Dover, NJ. “We offer several widths, from 2 to 12 inches, and depths of 12 to 22 inches, to merchandise a multitude of products. Plus, it’s available in a retailer’s colors and brand logo.”
This summer, Lyons says the company will offer its SMT system with sensors that can tell when product is low and how many units are sold.
The value of well-stocked shelves is huge. According to a 2021 study commissioned by Afresh, an Oakland, CA-based fresh tech company, and conducted by San Mateo, CA-headquartered management company, Momentive, 74% of consumers expect produce displays to look fresh and delicious. Results also revealed that 70% expect the produce they want to be in stock. If a store has a large amount of fresh produce, 65% will be more inclined to shop there again, 56% will spend more time and 51% more money in the produce department.
4. CREATE FARMSTAND & FUTURISTIC LOOKS
Impulse-selling displays are the biggest selling opportunities, says Gelson’s Kneeland. “We like using grower boxes to create a farmers market look and feel of the department.”
Wood fixtures are a fashionable way to achieve this farmstand look. For example, Cayuga Displays’ refrigerated Fresh Go Bins’ standard décor panels are made of natural wood veneers with stain colors such as natural maple, Danish walnut and oiled cherry.
On the other hand, one of LemonTree Products’ signature selling points is offering over 16 million colors. This enables the company to match any retailer’s brand hues.
“Wood displays are a North American tradition. But wood doesn’t wear well. It can easily get scratched and nicked by shopping carts. Also, wood has cracks and crevasses and it’s harder to clean if something spills on it like fruit juices. Our displays are made from aerospace-grade materials. The surfaces are waterproof and smooth, so they don’t promote the growth of mold or bacteria. They are also easy to clean and sanitize and, therefore, are perfect for any type of produce,” says Countouris.
5. MAKE IT LABOR-SAVING
Food retailers face a huge employee turnover rate of 48%, according to The Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2022 report, by the Arlington, VA-based FMI — The Food Industry Association. So, anything that saves labor is a plus. This is especially true in produce when the manpower help comes in maintaining cleanliness.
“Sometimes, the biggest thing is not the way the produce is displayed from a visual standpoint, but the added labor it takes,” says Robb Northrup, director of marketing and communications for the Twinsburg, OH-based company, Siffron. “The benefit of the ModoShelf shelving system is that the lightweight stainless-steel frame stays in place, making it easy to remove the ABS tiles, which are 100% dishwasher safe, and put them back in the same planogram. It cuts the cleaning time in half compared to other types of shelving.”
The company’s ModoShelf is certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and is available in four widths, from 12 to 48 inches, with four shelf angles from 0 to 30 degrees.
6. ON THE HORIZON — ELECTRONIC SHELF LABELS
Larger and brighter signage signs calling out the retailer’s low prices were part of Walmart’s Produce 2.0 merchandising reset starting in 2019.
“In the future, we see ESL (Electronic Shelf Labels) becoming increasingly popular as an innovative technology in chain supermarkets. Since labor is a big concern, chains can quickly and centrally affect price changes and do so throughout the store,” says Blanc Display Group’s Lyons. “We’re dabbling in ESL, but what we’re currently focused on is making the price tag attachments and holders. The ones today that ship with the system often break. We have 3D printers and can create these accessories that are strong and will last.”
• • •
WHAT’S NEW IN MISTERS — FOG!
Misting Systems Are a Must-Have in the Produce Department.
By Carol M. Bareuther, RD
Misting helps keep fruits and vegetables from losing moisture, and that keeps them looking fresh and appealing, creating greater impulse sales.
“Studies have shown that misting can also help retain nutrients like Vitamin C in produce. Plus, misting help keeps produce fresh longer both at retail and in a consumer’s home, and brings them back with confidence to purchase more,” says Emily Stavrou, vice president of the Corrigan Corporation of America, headquartered in Gurnee, IL.
Something as simple as misting can be quite complicated, tells Itamar Kleinberger, co-founder of Prodew Inc., in Marietta, GA. “Years ago, most produce departments had the same merchandising format with a large open shelf with a mirror background. Today, there are so many varieties of shelving, open and closed cases, island versus wall displays, and a growing variety of products and packaging in these cases.”
One of the biggest developments in misting over the last decade has been the size of the water droplet. Prodew’s FogMist system creates an 8- to 12-micron range of fog versus raindrop-type misting. The fog floats around the product allowing produce to absorb the moisture slowly and naturally, resulting in high-quality items like crisp greens and firm squash.
The company has recently upgraded and engineered the next generation of its FogMist bar in smaller, modular-type segments that provide retailers flexibility on the size of case segments they wish to mist/fog.
“Retailers traditionally focused on misting green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, parsley, and cilantro using heavier raindrop type misting systems, often saturating both the product and produce cases. Over time, retailers realized they needed less water on these green leafy vegetables, but also discovered that hydrating other peeled vegetables such as squash, eggplant, and peppers, extended shelf life by hydrating with precision,” says Kleinberger.
Earlier this year, Corrigan announced the launch of its new product, Préserve. This system creates high levels of gently rolling dry fog humidity, without compressed air, which prevents transpiration and extends the shelf life of produce. The clean fog is created using a closed plumbing system that exceeds health department requirements and does not require an FDA-mandated service contract, according to Stavrou.
“We’ve also integrated active oxygen technology that automatically sanitizes the equipment and service cases. This strengthens food safety confidence and lengthens produce shelf life even further. Consumers find that produce is dry to the touch, although many retailers like to use a combination of misting and fogging,” says Stavrou.