The Voice Of The Customer: Meeting And Beating Expectations

By Anne-Marie Roerink, Principal, 210 Analytics

In a tough retailing environment, produce is winning. In 2016, produce dollar gains exceeded those of meat, deli, bakery and other perimeter departments, and certainly center store. Enjoying the benefits of shoppers’ focus on health and wellness, produce sales are poised for further growth. But while a consumer favorite, competition is tough with many channels and banners vying for trips, dollars, and volume. So what can we do to optimize the shopper experience? After all, with the bulk of the purchase clustered in traditional food retail, the entire industry benefits from an optimized in-store experience. The Food Marketing Institute’s Power of Produce 2016 looked at retailers’ report cards, and where they can improve.


Shopper satisfaction with the primary produce department is good, with room to improve, at 4.0 on a five-point scale, where five is highest. Channels exceeding that average include club stores and specialty/organic stores, whereas supercenters fall below average. But while produce departments are performing well overall, it is important to remember that with abundant choice in most areas of the country, people will often simply change channels if their expectations aren’t met — as evidenced by the 24 percent of shoppers who change stores. To prevent channel shifting, or to become a destination of choice, shoppers advise retailers to offer a better variety of items, followed by better everyday prices, better quality/freshness and improved in-stock availability of the items.

While shoppers will always expect and demand lower prices, other high-scoring areas may be ways to strengthen satisfaction and loyalty. In particular, out-of-stocks is a common issue that affects spending and satisfaction.


Across channels, shoppers call for a greater variety of produce items. Given the current SKU level, in reality, it’s likely a call to carry the right variety of items tailored to the store audience, rather than more.  An additional quarter of shoppers recommend more specialty items, be it organic, local, ethnic, non-GMO or a particular brand. This call for more specialty items is particularly strong among Millennials and Hispanic shoppers.

Unsurprisingly, shoppers also bring up better every day and promotional prices. In a way, the industry will never be able to win on price. Regardless of the price points driven by the market supply and demand, shoppers will always seek hotter deals. But retailers who are able to make price a secondary consideration behind other attributes such as quality, freshness, organic, local, service, etc., are in a much better position to drive produce department satisfaction, spending, and loyalty.


Between two and three in 10 shoppers see room for improvement in various operational areas, starting with better quality/freshness and better in-stock. The latter, in particular, drew a lot of open-ended comments, pointing to the frustration associated with out-of-stocks, not to mention potentially lost sales. Good quality/freshness is particularly important, as it is the No. 1 item on the purchasing decision tree for both fruit and vegetables. Other items include improved cleanliness and having all prices clearly marked.

More sampling, a greater variety of recipes, available and knowledgeable produce associates, and more cooking demonstrations drew agreement as areas of improvement as well. While marked by fewer shoppers than areas such as variety and price, many can be great ways for retailers to differentiate, if done well.  Interestingly, Millennials, with their well-documented lack of cooking knowledge, have a much greater desire for more recipes, sampling and cooking demonstrations. These can be excellent areas to foster a growing integration of fresh produce into the diet and meal line-up.

The Power of Produce 2016 — Shopper research by the Food Marketing Institute, made possible by Yerecic Label and Hill Phoenix and conducted by 210 Analytics in close cooperation with the FMI Fresh Leadership Council.