“I would buy more fresh produce if I only knew what was good.”
I have overheard this once or twice. I bet you have too, from customers on the sales floor or at a backyard summer cookout. Produce people know what is peaking or seasonal. We know what is especially tasty, what’s a great value.
Many shoppers are not nearly as well informed, and their lack of knowledge about seasonality and fruit and vegetable attributes can be a barrier to sales.
Recent data show that many shoppers are uncomfortable picking out anything that ripens. Even if an item looks good or is displayed in a prominent location, they may decide to pass on it because they don’t know how to select a good one.
What can a produce marketer do about this? Here are a few thoughts on the matter.
Identify the subjective (“Is it ripe or not ripe?”) items
You probably already know the big ones: bananas, tomatoes, avocados. However, there’s lots more: melons, papaya, mangoes, pineapple. Customers often don’t know about other produce that doesn’t even involve ripening, such as hard squash, pomegranates or artichokes. I’ve had customers examine a slightly yellowing green bell pepper and ask, “Does this mean it’s ripe?”
Train your crew at every opportunity
Try to work closely with every member of your crew at one point or another. As you work, offer tidbits of information on the various fruits and vegetables you’re stocking.
“Did you know watercress is the only vegetable grown underwater?”
“Notice how the pineapple tops are fresh and green? As they age and shrivel those tops are a dead giveaway to declining quality – cull these and replace with fresh.”
“These Anjou pears don’t yellow up when ripe like the Bartlett’s, but here’s how to test if they’re ripe by applying gentle pressure.”
Train your crew by telling, showing, sampling and letting them join you when you offer tips to customers. Your crew needs constant training so they can address knowledge gaps for customers and give them the confidence they need to buy.
Offer varying stages of ripeness
Customers buy avocados green for later in the week, breakers for use in sandwiches or for the next day, and fully ripe to make guacamole or spread on toast right away. As much as possible, offer multiple choices on your displays. Display part of your banana display with riper fruit, part with greener fruit. Again, impress upon your crew to do the same.
Use that silent salesman – the sign
A brief sign can say something like “Cantaloupe are ripe when” and list a few bullet points. For example, note that on a ripe fruit the netting has an even, straw color and the blossom end will have a nice, sweet aroma. You can also use a sign to caution shoppers to avoid a cantaloupe that is dark green, overly soft or bruised. Remember that most people do not know how to pick out a cantaloupe, a honeydew or variety melons. A sign with a few points, including proper storage, can help tear down that barrier.
Use the power of the demo
I visited a San Antonio chain years ago. To my surprise, a local summertime fresh produce draw is prickly pears – cactus fruit or tunas as the locals call them. A huge table endcap filled with beautiful tunas spilled over in a large display. The demo team featured the sweet prickly pears by offering fresh-cut samples and sold even more by making a delicious drink in a blender and handing out juice. Getting the ‘subjective’ items (think honeydew, papayas, variety melons) and the unfamiliar on the demo schedule, and ordering extra stock, will help break down knowledge barriers and move lots of fresh produce.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 40 years’ experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.