Showdown in the Produce Aisle

Discussion
Nov 07, 2011
Bernice Hurst

There’s cross-selling and there’s cross-selling. Placing Tostitos next to the makings of guacamole may be somewhat more justified than putting V8, pomegranate juice, coconut waters and smoothies in the produce department. But what about processed cheese slices next to tomatoes or refrigerated salad dressings and Yves Meatless Hot Dogs alongside salad ingredients? Both “are logical purchases with produce items,” according a Wall Street Journal story.

Discussing the so-called “halo effect” attached to healthy fresh food, the Journal describes “fundamentally changing traditional store layouts” being considered in chains such as Giant Eagle, Kroger, Meijer and Winn-Dixie.

According to the article, “freshness credibility” separates the best grocers from warehouse clubs, convenience stores and others stocking primarily packaged foods. Fresh often equates to high-margin in the area nearest the store entrance where shoppers often spend most of their budget. But the report goes on to say, “stores are finding that consumers consider even packaged foods placed there to be fresher and higher quality.”

The trend comes as a Supervalu Inc. survey of consumers in November showed that 92 percent of shoppers said fresh produce was the number one factor in choosing a grocery store, with meat coming in second.

Art Sebastian, Kraft’s director of shopper insights and category development, added that research shows that moving dairy closer to produce is one way to “play up the fresh factor, the cooking factor” of its products.

Executive vice president of merchandising at Meijer’s, J.K. Symancyk, argued that “shoppers increasingly buy dairy products like yogurt and cheese at the same rate they would fresh produce or meat and think of it as a fresh item, so it makes sense to sell dairy earlier in a shopper’s visit.”

Avoiding duplication is one hurdle. According to the Journal article, Supervalu for one, is placing refrigerators of milk both in front of store and in the dairy section, wherever that may be.

In his column in the Independent, Will Dean also appeared to be agree with some concerns expressed by supermarket execs in the Journal article that “letting things like cheese slices into the home of fresh tomatoes will damage the ‘freshness credibility’ that has made these areas so valuable in the first place.”

Discussion Questions: Have consumers changed their definition of fresh foods? If yes, does this suggest the need for a fundamentally different layout within supermarkets?

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11 Comments on "Showdown in the Produce Aisle"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

Could a society in which the average piece of “fresh” sushi is, in sad reality, two years old have the wool pulled over its eyes when it enters the Produce Department?

Of course.

“Fresh” — like organic — is more of a description of a consumer sensibility or perception than it is an effective descriptor of all the products available for sale in a produce department.

The upside — retailers leveraging this misapprehension will probably sell more yogurt.

The downside — outside of having your yogurt compressed under the weight of the rest of the order — is that rearranging the store this way, and expanding the principle to make meat, bakery and deli more accessible, deals another death blow to the center store which is now even easier to bypass.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

There seems to be some confusion between fresh and packaged. Just because a product has undergone further or value-added processing does not mean it is not fresh. How many consumers don’t know how to cut up a cantaloupe? Just because it has been cut up and put in a package does not mean it is not fresh.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
9 years 5 months ago

Consumers are in a constant search for fresh healthy foods these days. Their search parallels both their increased knowledge base and social trends. And as those factors move along new items, new ideas, and new paradigms are embraced.

This activity is not as constant as change itself, but it does present current opportunities for retailers to fine tune offerings and establish new positionings to the music being generated by consumers in today’s marketplace. Personally, I would like to see supermarkets add more coherent animation to their store layouts and presentation. To wit — “Life is a cabaret, old chum …” so let’s make supermarkets more like happy cabarets.

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

I think that the article points out what we all know intuitively. Context influences perceptions. So if fresh is a relevant and motivating feature, what is placed near fresh is positively influenced by fresh, taking on more desirable attributes and features associated with fresh. That’s what some of us call “packaging” and retailers refer to as “merchandising.” In that regard, I believe that it is not the consumer who is redefining “fresh”.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
9 years 5 months ago

A well deployed produce aisle can evoke emotions of health, freshness, better living and a whole plethora of positive emotions. That’s why its presentation and merchandising is so key in the overall retail plan. And yes, putting cheese slices and pre-made salad dressings will make them look fresher and healthier. It’s all about the lighting, and the signage and the misters (if you still use them). The produce section was never really 100 percent about produce. It’s an up selling and basket building haven that should constantly be optimized and maintained.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

The halo effect of placing packaged foods next to fresh can only be stretched so far. If the packaged items don’t make sense, the effect is ruined. Part of the appeal for consumers is time savings. Consumers don’t think of cheese slices when they are looking at tomatoes, but they do think of chips when looking at avocados and tomatoes.

Paul Flanigan
Guest
Paul Flanigan
9 years 5 months ago

No, consumers have not changed their definition of fresh foods. Grocers have changed the definition of how to present fresh foods.

We’re assuming that people walking through a produce aisle don’t know what they’re doing. Grocery shoppers are often seasoned shoppers, knowing what fresh is, and newcomers to produce can tell. The packaging is irrelevant, it’s intuiting and experience.

Because of that, they know what fresh looks like. So I cannot, at all, see that putting packaged cheese slices next to tomatoes makes the cheese look fresh. Shoppers know the difference.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
9 years 5 months ago
There is a more fundamental element at play here than simply the concept of fresh. That is, what is the “logical” way to organize items into categories? What does “category” mean? This is important because the reality is that most people assume the answers are obvious, but they are not. And anyone who has had to categorize a whole store will realize how challenging the problem is. Just as a single example, consider the “juice” category. Does that include both fruit and vegetable juices? Is frozen juice a different category than chilled juice? Many stores will have frozen juice in the frozen food section, chilled juice in the dairy section, shelf-stable canned and bottled juice in the dry grocery section, fresh squeezed, or presumably more freshly squeezed in produce. And shoppers don’t even give it a second thought, dealing with the juice “category” in a habitual way, unblessed by conscious thought. This illustrates a very important principle: retailers always organize things by operational efficiency, what works best for them, and then lie to themselves that… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
9 years 5 months ago

While maneuvering my cart around pallets of trendy products like coconut water to get to the avocados, I confess I start muttering like Andy Rooney (RIP). And since I know that placement was most likely bought and paid for by the manufacturer, it makes me even crankier.

In general, we may stipulate that the purveyors of every product in the store would like to attain front and center placement so as to get first crack at each shopper’s discretionary budget.

Tempting allowances aside, the retailer must maintain some integrity around its whole store and produce merchandising approach. Take the fast dime now and then, but don’t give up too many slow dollars in the process.

Pamela Riemenschneider
Guest
Pamela Riemenschneider
9 years 5 months ago

This topic comes up a lot in my inbox as marketers all want their products in front of the produce buyers. I regularly question the placement of things like wonton wraps and tofu cheese in the produce department, sitting under the misters getting water-logged every few minutes.

What about nuts and dried fruit? Snack aisle or produce aisle? Of course marketers want them in produce, where they get that fresh, healthful image. They say it’s where the diet-conscious and health-conscious shoppers want to find them — not next to the cookies and chips in center store.

I see the point in having a special promotion, say bringing a stand-up of marshmallows to the sweet potato aisle next week, but having a permanent home for shelf-stable juices, snacks and other items pushes it for me.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
9 years 5 months ago

Retailers should understand which products customers need in the same missions and work out how to provide these in the most relevant way without blowing the operational costs. With new products emerging and category definitions changing, this is something to review regularly and test and learn your way through.

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