Despite some slowdown due to weather or even Christmas shopping diversions, produce departments will be extremely busy prior to Thanksgiving and Christmas. How you plan for these high-volume weeks is crucial, especially for scheduling the labor it takes to pull it all off.


Merchandising Plan

1. Study prior years’ ad and merchandising notes: There’s nothing like good history to help guide how much celery, yams, cranberries, potatoes, relish items, etc., to project for and order. Even the timing of when the items are needed is helpful. If, for example, you sold 10 cases of celery per day, except for the 30 cases sold on Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving, this can help with your preparation and ordering needs. Your notes will ideally include last year’s merchandising schematic as well.

2. Three weeks out, lay out a new merchandising schematic: Your ad and power items should be prominently placed and so that several customers can shop displays from multiple angles. Also, try to spread out the displays so customers aren’t bunched up in one area. If possible,

Prepare for battle: and I mean the holidays

look to perimeter or secondary displays to help ease congestion.

3. Ten days to two weeks out, build your displays: The Thanksgiving ad typically breaks eight days prior to the holiday. Get a jump on merchandising changes the Monday or Tuesday prior. Since the majority of holiday produce sales won’t be until the five days prior to the holiday, there’s usually no need to build the displays overly massive — yet. But now’s the time to lay the groundwork.

4. Have an exit strategy in mind for post-holiday merchandising: Typically you’re safe to simply work up the spillovers or secondary displays and let the produce sell down to manageable levels for normal rotation, culling as you go.


Labor Plan

1. Devote one person to backroom organization and daily prep: If you’re organized in the prep area, your remaining clerks will spend more time on the sales floor (taking care of business), and minimal time trimming or digging through pallets of produce in the back room.

2. Consider assigning one person to an overnight prep shift: If you expect an extraordinary rise in prep work volume (as many produce departments do), an overnight shift — Friday through Wednesday night prior to Thanksgiving — is helpful. This shift can break down loads, perform crisping duties, stock displays, or wash and trim the huge demand for celery. Do this in the wee hours before the rush begins.

3. Double labor on wet rack/veg case: Since the vast majority of holiday shopping needs will be vegetable ‘relish’ items, the wet rack will be hit especially hard by customers.

4. Assign at least one or two clerks to focus on table ad item replenishment: Items such as potatoes, yams and onions will dominate the bulk of table sales. By scheduling some clerks during peak hours to maintain only ad and power items, chances are good these stock levels won’t suffer.

5. Double shifts to reorganize for the weekend following the holiday: Too many produce departments leave the entire cleanup process to a single person. Remember your department needs to be ready for business beyond the holiday too. Try doubling up on whatever is considered “normal.”


Other Notes:

Once the dust has settled and the holiday has passed (be it Thanksgiving or the Christmas/New Year’s period), take a few minutes to jot down the following: What went right? What improvement can you make for next year? You might include marketing notes and even a copy of order guides, making notes on how many ad items they used (or were short) and file it away to ease next year’s planning.