You don’t need the Chinese New Year as a reason to pump up your specialty produce. But it’s as good an excuse as any. Many chains use the event as a fulcrum to expand interest in specialty items.

A clean, well-stocked produce department is a draw for the entire store. What helps to make a produce department excellent is consistently offering a wide range of fresh offerings. Some of the most eye-catching selections can be found in the specialty produce displays.

Even though some produce managers think specialty offerings creates excess shrink, an expanded specialty produce section can actually generate extra sales because it conveys the impression of abundance — variety and selection at its best. This can more than offset the investment. Here are a few tips to recharge your specialty sections without sacrificing gross profit dollars.

In one produce director’s words, “It doesn’t cost — it pays to pump up the specialty produce program.”


Identify destination sections or points to display

Maximum specialties, minimum riskMost specialty sections already exist. It’s your job to see the potential within each one to enhance the displays. Begin with the root section on wet case, the tropical section on tables, the herb section, the mushroom section, and the tomato or chile set. If all you’re carrying is the minimum requirements, it’s time to reassess and sharpen the ordering pencil.

For example, look at the mushroom display. Bulk and packaged white mushrooms? Check. Portabellas? Check. Is that it? Redraw your schematic, using your order guide to help out. Try inserting several varieties for the bulk sets: White, crimini, ports, and perhaps try a couple that you don’t currently carry, such as shiitake and oyster mushrooms. On adjacent shelving, make room with your packaged whites for some added varieties. Some managers opt to use this space for varieties other than what is available in bulk, such as lobster, enoki, or matsutake varieties. Don’t forget dried mushrooms — talk about a safe investment. One shelf should offer all the dried mushrooms available.


Reassess the other specialty sections the same way

Introduce a few items at a time in each area. Add extra mango varieties into the tropical-specialty set; display some horned melons or gold kiwi to stir things up. In the root section of the wet rack, bring in some celery root or black radishes — items that many of your customers may not have heard of before.

Then, organize your new arrangement. Shallow baskets work well, but your creativity is the only limit here. Use color breaks and try to strike a balance of size, space allocation and colors to make it look appealing.


Spread out and dummy up

Wider, shallow displays sell more specialty produce than narrow, deep ones. Keep expenses in check by dummying up displays so a minimum of product is used, while giving the appearance of an abundant display.

When bringing in new items for this or any specialty set, order just enough product to fill the display, especially in the beginning. You can increase orders as sales build. But even then, it’s a good idea to keep back stock to minimum in order to keep shrink in check.


Straighten and cull through the day

What happens when the habanero chili — or any specialty item — has to be culled? Order fresh stock to replenish the supply. Don’t wait until the product is on its last legs either.

Treat specialty produce like any other offering. Anticipate optimal sales, and keep it fresh, stocked and culled. Provide informative signing, and keep bags handy.

All too much to bear? Try bringing in specialty items for your busy periods only. Some produce managers have good results by bringing in some “oddities” such as daikon sprouts, lemon basil or long beans and stocking them fresh on Friday mornings. Their weekend customers are exposed to added variety at its freshest point, while posing the least shrink risk for the department.


Specialty produce sell in a cross-merchandise mode too

Try hanging clip-strips of packaged basil near tomatoes or rosemary near the potatoes. Many culinary-inspired shoppers who buy mushrooms, for example, will also buy fresh herbs if these are presented nearby.

Consider overwrapping sensitive or bulky items such as snow peas or fingerling potatoes in a single-serving pack and preprice for convenience. Trays of either sell well when placed near like, major commodities. Pearl onions or packaged shallots move best on tables nearest the onions.

Specialty produce isn’t the big shrink culprit that some make it out to be. One produce director tested this by tabulating all the specialty purchases that his managers made during an entire quarter. The amount, when applied to the total shrink of the produce operation, was less than 1%.

By following these guidelines, the figure can be even less.

A beefed-up specialty program is an investment in your department. While you may not sell much specialty outright, the produce department with “good” specialty offerings outsell those stores without — and build a reputation with shoppers as being the store to shop when they absolutely need to find everything they need.

Gaining that reputation with your customers should be reason enough.