Produce is grown outdoors. Select supermarkets are starting to sell it there too.
Their motivation is the growing trend of farmers' markets. As more consumers flock to alfresco outlets, many retailers have chosen to set up miniature produce markets in their parking lots several times each summer. Some have outdoor sales areas all year round.
Highland Park Markets, Glastonbury, Conn., has had so much success with exterior emporiums, they have become standard at its stores.
“We try to create a farm-stand feel by displaying different produce outside, near the entrance of our stores,” said Tim Cummiskey, grocery manager for Highland Park Market's Glastonbury location. “There are semi-permanent displays in place that are continually replenished with the latest fruits and vegetables to come into season.”
Such setups prompt spontaneous purchases of produce. They also inspire shoppers to buy additional items inside.
A crate filled with sweet corn, for instance, might evoke thoughts of grilling. As a result, a shopper who picks up corn outside could venture indoors in search of steak, he said.
“I've also seen people pick up apples on their way in and then head straight to the baking section to buy pie crust and other pie ingredients,” added Cummiskey. “Another benefit to having mini markets near an entrance is that they set the atmosphere for the overall shopping experience.”
During winter months, when produce would likely perish outside, the same displays are filled with firewood. In the spring, hanging baskets are stocked there.
A lot of supermarkets have small outdoor displays like this, said Don Stuart, chief operating officer, Kantar Retail, Wilton, Conn. He challenged chains to think bigger, to build full-fledged, farmers' market-style forums.
“Farmers' markets are gaining in popularity and most retailers have yet to find a way to harness this trend,” he said. “If supermarkets can leverage the local theme in conjunction with local farmers, it can be a huge win.”
Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, doesn't just leverage its connections with local growers. It takes the concept of partnership to a whole new level, hosting two- to three-day outdoor sales events centered on suppliers.
“We do not call our sales ‘farmers’ markets,'” said Eric Anderson, Fresh Encounter president. “Rather, we emphasize that we support 70 local farmers throughout Ohio and Indiana. Our signage features a picture of each farmer and a brief descriptive of his farm.”
At times, the chain has even purchased produce directly from the fields to sell offsite at actual farmers' markets. The supermarket isn't trying to edge out its sources. Store employees who work the farmers' markets are sent out on behalf of the farmers, said Anderson.
To draw attention to its outdoor produce events, onsite or elsewhere, Fresh Encounter utilizes all types of traditional media. Modern resources like Twitter, Facebook and Four Square are also used.
“We notify customers about events like these,” said Anderson. “But we also send out messages immediately when fresh product arrives at a store so people know that locally grown produce is available at the peak of ripeness.”
Implementing an extensive outdoor produce program might not be practical for every retailer. The extra labor required might deter some. Potential for inclement weather is off-putting to others.
Supermarkets do not have to go all-out to have the same effect, said Jim Hertel, managing partner, Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill. He cited one chain with a sensible solution.
“Big Y of Springfield, Mass. has experimented with a garage door-style entrance that opens right into the produce section in its small format store in Wilbraham, Mass.” Hertel told SN. “The idea is now part of their ‘store of the future’ prototype. The produce department looks a lot like a farmers' market, but it's inside.”
Winn-Dixie, Jacksonville, Fla., has done something similar. The chain's new Covington, Ala. store boasts a portico just outside of its produce section. The concrete-covered space provides ample room for crates filled with seasonal fruits and veggies.
A 24-foot wide doorway connects the open-air market to the store's indoor produce section. Winn-Dixie even installed an air screen overhead to help prevent birds and insects from flying inside.
Whether opting to peddle produce outdoors all of the time or only on occasion, outside sales is something that everyone should at least consider, said Stuart. He encouraged retailers to maximize all of their options.
Outdoor markets with sampling and live cooking demonstrations would drum up excitement. So would having sidewalk displays in seasons other than just summer, he said.
“Autumn offers an exceptional opportunity to tie into a theme,” he said. “Pumpkins, apples, gourds and other fall produce are perfect for selling outside.”
Stores could sell everything from asparagus and artichokes to spinach and spring onions in March, April and May. In warmer climates, carrots, cauliflower and clementines are just a few of the fruits and vegetables that can be featured during the winter months, added Stuart.