Merchandising Potatoes and Onions

It's possible that some of you will not make it past the title of this piece, after all, the idea of merchandising potatoes and onions rarely seems to draw much interest. Let's face it, these items often become the forgotten stepchild of the produce department. You're running late setting up the department, only twenty minutes until customers begin flooding in, "well . . . let's just shine on the potato and onion section and we'll catch it later on after we get everything else set." Typically two or three days later someone is assigned that dreadful task of going through the onions and potatoes. If that should become your assignment, it almost feels like a type of punishment - someone else has the joy of setting the wet rack today, and you have been given the task of working the dry table.


Walk through most any produce department, functioning at just about any level of operation and expertise, and amazingly, no matter how great the department looks overall, the potato and onion section will typically not reflect that same level of merchandising.


It's difficult to pinpoint how historically the potato and onion area of a produce department became reduced to “second class”, however, there are some very good reasons that if you find your own produce department overlooking this section, a very large opportunity is being missed. Here are a few reasons why:


  1. Typically potatoes and onions have some of the healthiest margins of any items in your department. The more you sell the greater impact it will have on your overall margin.
  2. Merchandising these items is actually quite easy. Often the stumbling block in taking care of this section is the thought that nothing you can do will make this array of brown color look very good. Potatoes and onions can and should be a very striking element in your produce set. Perhaps the most critical merchandising strategy for creating a successful look with these items is to create the proper display setting. A nice compatible environment for potatoes and onions is to create a market-like feel. Using small size (bushel-type) baskets facing outwards in the back of the display, as though the potatoes and onions are spilling out from them is a nice touch. At the bottom end of the display have the same size baskets catching the "spilled out" product providing a nice earthy, market type look which works very well for potatoes and onions. Don't be afraid to use a little burlap in the base of the "catch basket" for an added affect. This set is typically easy to work and easy to keep full.
  3. Onions and potatoes are some of the easiest product to cull. Because of their hearty nature, they typically go bad less frequently than most items and your percentage of sellable product per case should be quite high. Again, this is a nice contributing factor to the overall profitability of your department. Even from a labor perspective they do not demand as much, requiring less frequent rotation than most items. Usually a rotation schedule of every 2 days works fine.
  4. As a category, onions and potatoes are one of the largest selling groups of items within any produce department. It's pretty rare that you don't see some variety of these items on a customers shopping list. As a result, this is one of the most visited and shopped areas in your department. Think of this area as setting the tone for how well your department looks. Chances are if you can "wow" your customers with the beauty and arrangement of your potato and onion section, they will give some of your other products a good look as well.


As we continue with the winter season, potatoes and onions remain popular in stews, casseroles, and soups. Why not give this section a little makeover this season and rather than have it be the forgotten stepchild, make your potato and onion section be a draw for your customers. Think of it this way: your department on any given day only looks as good as your weakest area. Take a good look today at your potato and onion section. Does it reflect the best work of your department?