ATLANTA -- Small changes can pay big dividends for retailers, judging from the strategies shared by department managers here at the Produce Marketing Association's Fresh Summit.
A simple alteration in the shopper traffic pattern boosted one produce department manager's sales by 10%. Straw hats and Hawaiian music were all it took to sell $2,000 worth of pineapples in one afternoon at another supermarket.
"We increased traffic coming through our department by 19% as well as increasing sales by 10% over last year just by rearranging the tables at the beginning of the aisle," said Dan Fechte, produce manager at a Schnuck Markets store in Godfrey, Ill. "They had been placed one after another so that you saw only the first one as you looked our way. What we did was just pull them out and set them at a slight angle so you see three or four [tables] at a time."
At a Farm Fresh in Elizabeth City, N.C., the store sold 150 cases of fresh pineapples in a few hours. As the intercom played Hawaiian music, two associates decked out in loud print shirts and straw shirts strolled through the store offering customers samples of cut pineapples.
"We sold 400 cored pineapples for a total of $1,396 and 200 whole ones for $598 that one day," said James Bowman, produce merchandiser at Virginia Beach, Va.-based Farm Fresh.
It takes the right people for such a program to work, Bowman said.
"They have to be outgoing," he said. "They have to establish rapport."
Every day, produce department associates at Farm Fresh stores walk around the stores from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., offering samples. Associates know upper management executives visit the stores at least once a week to make sure the demos are taking place.
Other speakers on the panel were J.P. Watterson, produce manager at a Publix Super Markets store here in Atlanta; Theresa Murphy, manager at a Sweet Bay store in Largo, Fla.; and Ira Epps, a produce manager at a Wal-Mart store in Calhoun, Ga. Moderating the panel was Harold Lloyd, a former retailer who now works as a Friendly's franchisee and industry consultant.
Sampling is emphasized at Schnucks. Fechte said he takes two items, usually unconventional products, and offers samples every day.
"I guarantee you 50% to 60% of those customers go over and buy the product," he said. "It increases sales by 25% to 50% in the month."
Though challenging to maintain, sampling programs can be done with regular monitoring, the panelists agreed.
"It's a matter of educating our associates," Bowman said. "We give all our associates sampling knives, and expect them to cut a piece of apple or whatever's on sale and offer it to customers as they get near the display."
Cross merchandising can be effective, the panelists said. Epps from Wal-Mart displays lemons in pitchers and oranges on juice squeezers and sells them as a package, with a $1 premium on top of the regular retails for all the items.
"It's very successful, and we doubled sales of pitchers and juicers," he said.
The managers offered several suggestions to Lloyd's question -- how can supermarkets get shoppers to linger in the produce department?
Epps said he has handed out apples to children and that keeps mothers shopping longer and the kids behaving well.
Murphy said she routinely calls huddles to show off new items. "I get on the intercom and invite customers and associates to huddle in the produce department," she said. "When they get there, I show them the new item, talk about it, tell them what to do with it and then I personally give them a sample. It only takes three or four minutes, and I do it six to eight times a week. We do that in all our produce departments."
No matter what the message is on the intercom, Murphy said she uses appealing adjectives like "exciting, really different, delicious, golden or crunchy," rather than just announcing a product and its sale price.
Watterson at Publix said the store regularly holds "Meet the Manager" day to build rapport between shoppers and the manager, and keep people shopping longer.
"Customers want to talk to us and get our signatures, because if they get every department manager's signature, they get something in return," he said. "Maybe $10 off their order or a free product."
An innovative program for associates has paid off at Farm Fresh. Associates are quizzed on the price look-ups for the top 10 items, as well as unfamiliar produce items.