Alas, it is definitely upon us. But fear not. This is an exciting category that generates a wallop of summer volume, sales and gross profit. Because of its true seasonality, customers yearn for stone fruit, seek it out, and, best of all, fill bags of peaches, bags of plums, bags of apricots, bags of nectarines, and more.
The demand for high-quality, flavorful stone fruit has never been higher. Best thing? It all adds up in those register rings.
However, one must exercise caution, for the category is rife with potential pitfalls (pun intended). This is perhaps the most delicate category in the produce department, and much of summer’s shrink can be traced to neglect and mishandling of stone fruit. While some may consider stone fruit, “just another category,” it absolutely requires careful planning and attention.
Here are a few tips to consider along the way:
Think of stone fruit season in three phases: Early season, mid-season, and late season. In the early going, stone fruit tends to hold up longer. The somewhat slightly-immature fruit can sustain longer periods on the shelf, perhaps even being stacked a layer or two higher than the usual two-high recommendation dictated by most chains. For this reason, early season fruit ordering can be a little more forgiving if you get long. But like any produce ordering, the idea is to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security: Order only what you need until your next delivery. Ideally, your displays will be stocked with enough fruit for shopping, and your back stock area clean and empty — when your delivery backs up to your dock door.
Mid-season and late season? That’s an entirely different animal. Stone fruit breaks down very quickly. So your ordering pencil must be even sharper as you head into mid- and late summer. Again, take your time and consider every factor when ordering: Anticipated business, quality, price, ad items, holidays, first or mid-month payday periods — any variable that will affect your order. Then order with care, aiming for the just-in-time delivery target.
Product Care, Temperature and Handling
It’s said that habits are either our best friend, or our worst enemy. If you hear someone say, “We’ve always stored stone fruit in the walk-in cooler…We’ve always stocked stone fruit in the refrigerated cases,” then you’ve met the habitual, worst-enemy advocate.
Since temperatures in both mentioned areas are usually set in the mid 45-degree range, that’s smack in the middle of what’s known as the “killing zone.” According the University of California Division of Agriculture (and printed on just about every stone fruit shipper’s carton), the killing zone is when stone fruit is stored between 36-50 degrees. Store your investment here, and it has an adverse effect on ripening, on texture, and worst of all — this temperature range kills the flavor.
Your investment, customer satisfaction, and long-term summer sales will suffer.
All the more reason to insist that whatever product isn’t immediately bound for the familiar refrain of “truck to shelf” should be stored in an ambient (room temperature) area. The same general back stock space where you keep your tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and bananas.
Yeah, stone fruit is that fragile.
Same philosophy extends to your display area. Choose regularly-cleaned, matted dry table space for displaying stone fruit. Train and stress to those super-strong produce clerks of yours that stone fruit must be handled gently. Cases should never be dropped, product never dumped onto a display. Stone fruit should always be stocked and rotated with care, keeping a keen eye out for less than desirable quality — and culled often. Most chains dictate that stone fruit never be stocked more than two layers. Most chains are correct: Stock it higher, and you’ll see a lot more pressure bruising and with this, considerably higher shrink.
Any exceptions to the killing-zone rule? Sure. Cherries. Keep those babies as cold as possible without freezing.
Merchandising and Displaying
The key to successful stone fruit displays is to take advantage of all the senses the fruit reaches.
Customers buy with their eyes. Merchandise using plenty of lot of color breaks. Cherries next to apricots, nectarines next to black plums, contrasting pluot colors — you get the drift. Color breaks attract customers’ attention, slow them down and spark sales.
Spread out, not deep on displays. Take care to enhance the visual appeal with as many facings as you can afford, keeping in mind that you want to display just enough stone fruit that will sell (or turn) at least two or three times (or more) per day. Wide displays, maximum two-high depth, and frequent inventory turns are the goal. Fresh sells.
How about a sample? Yes, how about arranging for some sampling this summer? Now is the ideal time to arrange with your store manager to get your demo team in the produce aisle and sample a different stone fruit item each week. If possible, active sampling (having a demo clerk cutting and handing ripe samples to customers) is the best method to attract attention to a display and spark stone fruit sales. However, a passive sampling program (such as an unattended domed tray) works too, just ensure there’s a plan in place to monitor the sample trays, keep them stocked, signed and above all, clean. Want to see some stone fruit displays? Check out this gallery from the Produce Retailer Flickr page.