I did my usual rounds of walking through a few produce departments last week. I like to scout a few as a matter of routine whether I’m shopping or just being the perpetual produce nerd that I am. I must say, I’m a bit perplexed.

I double-checked the date. This is summer, right?

What’s struck me thus far is the overall lack of big bulk displays. Particularly with stone fruit. Shouldn’t I be seeing end caps or freestanding bin displays of peaches, nectarines, plums and more?

Oh, I see the stone fruit all right, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the fare is relegated to half-case displays, on a tropical table buried in the middle of the produce department. In small baskets that share the same space allocation as, say, the nearby dragon fruit.

I know, everyone is scared to death of having too much shrink. And summertime shrink can be especially high if orders and displays aren’t monitored closely.

What I’ve seen so far? Produce managers are timid. They’re overly cautious, gun shy, or stuck in corporate schematics that limit inventory and take the safe path. Folks, that’s no way to run a produce department.

Dale Carnegie once said, “Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes the furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare.”

Translated into produce lingo: Spread out and open up the displays. If you build it, they will buy.

I’d encourage any of the produce managers this week to consider the key factors: Quality? Fresh stuff, so sweet. Top shelf goods out there. Price? As good as it’s going to get. Availability? Strong, and the best of the summer stone fruit hasn’t even peaked yet.  

What’s the risk? No question a produce manager flirts with higher shrink as soon as that one-case “display” morphs into a 10- or 20-case presentation. If the stone fruit display is over-built, over-stacked or overripe the manager risks having too much shrink.

What’s the benefit to taking stone fruit risks? Sales. Lots and lots of glorious summer volume can make those cash registers sing. The trick, of course, is to balance the calculated risk against potential loss. But a seasoned produce manager can make it work.

This means flexing that experience muscle; looking at your customer base, anticipated volume, available SKUs and varieties, price, availability, product quality and maturity; and available space. Then, project how much product you can move — really — when you take a risk. 

Maximizing sales comes down to showing off the summer goods and aggressively promoting stone fruit with abundant displays. Minimize the risk with careful, thoughtful ordering, sampling, close culling, and frequent rotation.

It’s summer. Show ’em you mean business.

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 [email protected].

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