Photo courtesy Produce Marketing Association

It’s been said that we buy with our eyes. Anyone in retail knows what that means: If a product is presented well and looks good, customers will purchase it. But what if retailers add the use of theater to the concept of eye appeal?

Theater in the produce department is more than just “Stack it high and watch it fly!”

Christmas and New Years are huge drivers for sales and profits. Average rings tend to increase during the holidays, and so does opportunity. Engaging consumers is important year-round, but even more so during the hectic holiday season.

People can be overwhelmed by it all and have a feeling of falling short to the point of becoming super stressed.

The thought of all the cooking, cleaning and hosting – even getting weekday dinners on the table during December and early January — can compound that frazzled feeling and overpower what should be a joyous time.

So what, you may ask, can retailers do to capitalize on this opportunity to maximize produce sales during the winter holiday season? Think of ways to both defuse and delight shoppers.

This is a time when retailers can play a pivotal role in their customers’ lives by coming to the rescue in a way.

Just how retailers achieve a differentiated experience varies widely, but the winter holiday season creates perfect conditions for experiential retail to make the most impact. If we can give shoppers a reprieve and make the trip to the market a pleasure versus a chore, it’s a win-win.

In supermarkets, merchandising, signage and displays are all part of creating theater.

Photo by Ashley Nickle

From my experience, associates enjoy supporting the effort by donning a Santa hat or other holiday-themed clothing which can add to the thematic strategy. Create a feast for all the senses and watch customers respond.

There is just something about walking into a supermarket during the holidays and immediately hearing seasonal music coupled with a station serving hot cider. The aromas of apple and cinnamon are inviting and immediately change the mindset to one of relax and enjoy.

Consumers might come armed with a grocery list based on recipes gathered from social media, store circulars or websites, dishes inspired by store dieticians, or other myriad sources.

But when you can capture their attention with a unique experience, that shopping list becomes just a starter.

Be prepared to capitalize on impulse sales by inspiring the customer. Just make it simple.

Photo by Ashley Nickle

Bundle ingredients. Showcase a cooking demo or sampling station with recipe cards. The last thing a harried shopper wants is to have to overthink one more purchase!


Create theater around sub-holiday themes

With only 26 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, holiday functions and parties will be celebrated in a more compact time frame. Don’t miss the opportunity – with only three weekends – to earn additional sales. Consider creating a different sub-holiday theme each of the weekends to provide a new experience for your customers.

Some ideas that come to mind:

  • Roasting fresh chestnuts
  • Fresh dipped apples (chocolate, caramel or both) with a variety of toppings
  • In-store DIY fruit baskets
  • Pear, cheese and wine “pairings”

The ideas are limited only by your own creativity. So think differently about how you make the 2019 holidays memorable for your store or business.  

Another key: know your customer base and cater to their tastes. Literally.

That might mean featuring ethnic-inspired flavors to attract millennial shoppers, or it could mean stocking, highlighting and price promoting certain commodities depending on shopper demographics and ethnicity.

When considering regional tastes, Christmas in the deep south is unusually unique. Consider okra. In some areas retailers may not even offer it due to its limited availability, but in the south —and especially on the gulf coast — okra is a primary ingredient for seafood and okra gumbo, stewed okra and tomatoes, and of course the ever-popular fried okra. So, retailers in the south use the opportunity to capitalize upon consumer demand at a key time on the calendar.

Wherever you’re located, the holidays are prime times for theater at retail, but creative approaches will resonate with shoppers any time of the year. We’d love to hear your ideas at PMA, so share your holiday promotion photos and videos with us and the Produce Retailer on social media, or email me at [email protected].

This column is part of a series by Joe Watson, who spent 30-plus years as the director of produce for Rouses Markets and was named Produce Retailer of the Year in 2014. Joe now serves as a vice president of member engagement for PMA.


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