There was a time, not so long ago, when the produce department was little more than the no-nonsense spot at the food retail store to stock up on life’s greener essentials. Stroll through a grocery store today, and you’ll quickly discover the produce section has become a whole new ballgame. From croutons to nuts, fruit juices to fruit fly solutions, the number of products vying for highly coveted space in the produce department is growing. We’re not just comparing apples to oranges anymore, folks.
A recent study found that 92% of shoppers report fresh produce was the single most important factor when choosing a grocery store. Having secured prime real estate near the front of stores, the produce department is a high-traffic hot spot where consumers make their first stop and purchasing decisions. Those initial minutes perusing the produce section set the tone for the rest of the shopping experience.
Location, location, location
Once banished to the back of the store with hopes of encouraging impulse purchases, many modern groceries are taking a hint from the produce section, and beginning to relocate dairy cases to the front of their stores. That’s no accident. Recent research has found that green is the way to go. Consumers are more likely to consider packaged foods “fresh” and “high quality” when the products are located alongside fruits and vegetables in the produce section. For non-produce products, this so-called “halo effect” not only increases brand affinity simply by rubbing elbows with chard and kale, it makes the produce section a hotbed of opportunity for brands trying to boost their image and their bottom line.
Consumers aren’t the only ones taking note. Over the past several years, retailers have started adapting to the evolving needs, wants and habits of shoppers. In addition to transitioning to wooden shelving to give stores a more “natural” look, Winn-Dixie began devoting an average 30% more floor space to fresh produce in some of their locations. Kroger began using shorter shelving and removed signage interfering with line of sight in order to create a space where shoppers feel “like they are in a garden, orchard or farmer’s market.” Wegmans even lightened their ceiling and began relying on more natural light.
The future of the produce section
While some retailers worry that integrating non-produce into the produce department could create a conflict of interest, those who have merged the two worlds have created a superior shopping experience for their customers and a more profitable one for their product partners. Grocers shouldn’t shy away from taking advantage of the growing consumer trend towards healthier eating. Successful integration or non-produce is a simple matter of finding that perfect pairing – and I’m not talking malbec versus riesling. Salad dressings, croutons and fruit juices are obvious choices, but this new world of produce and non-produce living in harmony is a great opportunity to think outside the box (or bag or bunch, as the case may be.) Perhaps a display featuring tortilla chips and salsa alongside a stack of avocados? Hummus near the carrot sticks? Pudding mix and wafer cookies nestled beside bunches of bananas?
The possibilities are endless.
Mat Franken is the founder of Aunt Fannie, a consumer products brand specializing in natural household products that are “simple, honest and clean.”
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