Produce Dept. Hero Article

Building the Perfect Produce Department

UNFI’s Dorn Wenninger offers advice on making this key store department an irresistible lure for customers
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Headshot

Progressive Grocer recently caught up with Dorn Wenninger, SVP of produce at Providence, R.I.-based UNFI, to find out how to show off fresh fruits and veggies to their best advantage. The conversation ranged from preferred fixtures and lighting to effective signage to pro tips on arranging produce for maximum appeal to customers.

Progressive Grocer: Why is optimal produce presentation in retail stores important?

Dorn Wenninger: Customers value quality and freshness above all else, and the display in-store is what either delivers against that expectation or leads to disappointment. I’ve always stressed the importance of “space to sales” when it comes to displays. If your display looks great but requires four days of sales for the product, then some of that produce will be four days old by the time it’s sold. Figuring out how to make impactful displays with one day of sales volume is the trick. If the display is too big, it requires culling, which in today’s labor environment is challenging and costly. Great merchandisers utilize pyramids, upside-down RPCs [resusable packaging containers] and other supports to create optics of abundance with the right volume to encourage sufficient turns.

[Read more: "UNFI Expands Wild Harvest Organic Offerings"]

Stores tend to be very sophisticated about their modulars in the center of the store:  how many facings, adjacencies, holding capacity and level of the shelf. My best results have been combining that level of discipline and analysis from the center of store and overlaying it onto the complexity of produce. As much as great produce merchandisers are artists, a best-in-class merchandiser combines their expertise with data.

PG: What roles do fixtures and lighting play in optimal produce presentation?

DW: Light is good! Produce is natural. The objective in the produce department is to allow the product itself to be the hero, so we want the shopper to be able to see it. 

Fixtures should show off the produce. It’s important to give good lines of sight across the department to show off the colors and freshness. Shoppers should be able to easily pick up and choose the product they want. Investing in modern, refrigerated islands or chilled center-of-department fixtures is well worth it, as it allows for showcasing of refrigerated product beyond just the wet wall.

UNFI Wild Harvest
The objective in the produce department is to allow the product itself to be the hero, according to UNFI’s Dorn Wenninger.

PG: How does signage help entice shoppers to choose certain produce items, and how should signage be deployed in the produce department for maximum effect?

DW: I’m a fan of price impression on seasonal items immediately upon entering the store/department. Regardless of the socioeconomic level of your shopper, setting a tone of value drives more sales. It’s good to find a half-dozen items that you’re really proud about the price [of] and make a statement with it. In fact, sometimes, with too many large pricing signs, you lose value on the ones that matter the most. At the same time, make sure you’re getting credit for those items with which you’re driving excitement and volume.

Given that 12% of produce sold at retail in the U.S. is organic, I’m a fan of very clear and easy-to-read and -identify organic signing. The USDA Organic label is well known and sends quality cues about the produce overall, even to the nonorganic shopper. 

PG: How does seasonality play into produce presentations, and how should retailers use it?

DW: In some ways, it’s obvious to have apples in the fall, berries at Easter and corn on the 4th of July. That being said, produce is one of the easiest places to make a statement in the store. Produce tends to be the first thing shoppers see and therefore sets the tone. Seasonal floral is a great way to open, and it doesn’t even need to be big floral displays. Even for “nonfloral” stores, I suggest red roses for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day to set the environment of the store. Small floral sets can be used year-round, with seasonal colors as an important enhancement. 

I tend to also think of seasonality from a grower’s perspective. When a crop is in season, it tends to be at its best quality and at its best price. Driving price impression isn’t only about making the shopper “feel” the season. It’s also about leaning heavily on volume items when they’re at their best. For example, citrus is at its best quality and value in January, while apples are in October and watermelons are in July.

PG: How should particular fruits and vegetables be arranged/displayed for 
maximum appeal?

DW: Longtime produce gurus always teach to color stripe, and I’m no exception. Strong color breaks, instead of large blocks of single colors, make a wet wall or side counters visually pop from afar. I take particular note of a produce department from a macro level when I walk into the department. I look at the sight lines, color breaks, price impression, seasonal statements and quality cues. 

With an increase in packaged produce, I also think about how a store can use “naked” or unpackaged products for prominent displays, to build on the quality impression.
Spend time thinking about the daily sales of each item. Too small a carrying capacity, and your associates will be stocking too frequently in the day and you’ll have unnecessary out-of-stocks. Too large, and you’ll see the product sit too long, risking poor quality or excessive labor requirements to cull the display.

PG: What kind of results can retailers using optimal produce presentation practices expect, and why?

DW: We should always measure our sales versus the rest of market; that is to say, am I growing faster than my competitors?  I’m passionate about evaluating this, as it tells you how your shoppers view your value proposition versus your competitors. Displays, along with assortment, pricing and overall quality, are critical in taking market share. Done right, your produce presentation will help improve and highlight your assortment, pricing and quality. 

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