Food Forum: Sales for all seasons

Retailers can take advantage of the seasonal food trend in the produce department.

By P. Allen Smith

I am not sure I would consider seasonal eating a trend; it is more like a new appreciation pallensmithfor something we have always done. After all it was not until the second half of the 20th Century that eating out of season was really an option. As fresh fruits and vegetables have become more popular with diners so has the idea of everything having a season.

Eating a variety of food helps ensure a balanced diet, one that provides the body with all the nutrients it needs. Moreover, seasonal foods match what the body needs throughout the year. Water-packed produce like cucumbers and berries keep the body hydrated in summer, while winter’s calorically dense foods like beef and potatoes give the body energy. Plus a rotating selection of ingredients leads to creativity in the kitchen and keeps taste buds from getting bored.

So how can the produce department take advantage of the seasonal eating trend? Employ favorite sales strategies on seasonal items such as cabbage, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts.

Educate. Label fruits and vegetables that are in season and give them a prominent display. Let shoppers know that grapefruits are at their peak in the winter or to purchase fresh asparagus before the season ends in late spring.

Offer a takeaway. Draw attention to items with helpful tips. Here are a few to try:

•When choosing a lettuce go for dark green varieties. Deep green leaves are packed with antioxidants, which are believed to help prevent cancer.
•Heavy citrus fruits are the juiciest.
•Asparagus is a good source of multiple vitamins including zinc, magnesium, B and calcium. Stem thickness indicates the age of the plant.
•Blueberries have a shelf life of about 14 days. To store them, spread them out in a single layer to help the berries last longer. They are easy to freeze for later use.
•The longer a sweet potato cooks, the sweeter it becomes as the starch turns to sugar.
•Choose small, thin-skinned pumpkins for eating. These smaller varieties are bred to maximize sweetness and flavor as opposed to their bigger more fibrous cousins that get turned into Jack-O-Lanterns.
•A head of cabbage will stay fresh in the refrigerator for two weeks. Once cut, the cabbage will stay fresh for only a few days.

Create anticipation. Advertise seasonal produce that will arrive in the coming weeks. I for one am always on the lookout for strawberries at my grocery store. You can bet that I would be there to greet the delivery truck if I knew when the strawberries were coming.

Cross-merchandize. Display complementary ingredients nearby to show shoppers how to prepare seasonal produce. Group pasta, tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and garlic together with a sign explaining how to make an easy pasta sauce.

Get out of the produce aisle. Place displays of in-season items in several places throughout the store. The repeated exposure will increase sales.

Promote preserving. Home canning is making a huge comeback. Encourage shoppers to buy seasonal items in bulk to freeze, can and dehydrate.

Include local. Many people equate in-season produce with locally grown, which is a concept that is quickly gaining ground with consumers. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, local food sales grew from $4 billion in 2002 to $5 billion in 2007 to $11 billion in 2011. My neighborhood Kroger was the talk of the town last summer when they set up a stand of locally grown tomatoes. Reach out to a local farmer to fulfill some of your seasonal produce needs. Ask your state’s agriculture department if they have a program that connects farmers with retailers.  Even a small display of locally grown fruits and vegetables will demonstrate to shoppers that you are invested in the community.

P. Allen Smith is an award-winning designer and gardening and lifestyle expert, providing inspiration through multiple platforms. He can be reached at

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