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7 tips to freshen up fruit and veggie sales

CPMA's Ron Lemaire outlines a simple strategy to boost produce performance

It's already considered the most important part of the store, but Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA), believes grocers can squeeze even more sales out of the produce department.

Speaking to an audience of largely independent grocers at the Grocery and Specialty Food West show in Vancouver, Lemaire dispensed seven simple, but effective tips retailers can use to boost produce performance.

1. Plan—First and foremost data is key to understanding your consumer, what they're buying, when they're shopping and how you can influence their experience. Lemaire says you don't have to throw buckets of money on data, but if you are a smaller independent grocer you should partner with a vendor or shared group, if you're part of one, to help with data.

2. Sell flavour—Lemaire says the produce department went through a period where being  "big"  was the thing, but now it's all about flavour. "Flavour is significant in the foodie movement," says Lemaire. Talk to customers about flavour, sample products, "get them engaged with produce to help sell it."

3. Know your customers—Understand your community. "Are you in a community that's heavily Asian? Indian? Are you in a community in the suburbs with young families?" Know who's shopping your store and adjust your assortment accordingly. Canadians are looking for new products, says Lemaire. "Right now, three out of four Canadians regularly purchase fresh fruit and vegetables that they weren't buying five years ago. Be ready to change with demands."

Lemaire also says that while local products are important to consumers and you have to deliver on that demand, you should also keep in mind what the data tells us: that $3 out of every $4 spent on produce at retail is spent on imported product.

4. Leverage events—There are plenty of events in the calendar to build produce sales around, beyond the obvious ones like the Super Bowl and Grey Cup. "Look to the community," suggests Lemaire. If Little League championships are happening in your community, or the local hockey team makes the playoffs, call attention to and leverage these local events in your produce department. "Make sure these things are in your plan, your calendar, your strategy."

5. Be produce educated—"How many of your produce folks know what a jicama is? How many can tell the difference between a turnip and a carrot?" asks Lemaire, making the point that knowledgeable staff in the produce department is crucial. "Forty per cent of Canadians have told us through surveys that if they go into a produce department and they have an educated clerk telling them about a product, they'll buy more." If there is a knowledge gap, Lemaire suggests retailers talk to their vendors/wholesalers who are experts in the products or leverage CPMA's produce training programs. "Make sure you have talented staff and are creating an environment in store where it's not just a transaction, but it's an experience."

6. Merchandising matters—Use your colours, says Lemaire. "There's a reason why produce is at the front of the store. It's vibrant, dynamic and you want to leverage that." Use colours to build displays that will capture the consumer's attention and grab sales. Also make sure to regularly tend to your displays: make sure to rotate products like potatoes, avoid empty displays (this sends a bad message to consumers), and make sure there's no bad product in the mix.

7. Capture the impulse sale—There are plenty of opportunities for cross-merchandising in the produce department, too. It can be as simple as pairing Dream Whip with strawberries or bananas with chocolate. You can also wow with value-added items, says Lemaire; for example, create a squash display that incorporates whole squash, cubed squash or a spiralized item to give consumers options and capture impulse sales.



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