Product Selection and Ordering

Fundamental to the core success of any produce department is making sure that you have the right product mix coupled with an effective ordering system to ensure that the products you have selected are always available to your customers. Here are some key strategies for effective product selection and ordering:

Product Selection
The key to good product selection is not necessarily having the broadest mix of products, but rather having the right products for the size of your department. Greater product mix does not always equate to greater sales. Quite often you can increase your sales by making your broccoli display larger (for example) rather than adding 5 new specialty items.

It is important that you have all of the primary products available with great consistency. Make sure that your key items have enough space for an adequate size display. If you do decide that your department will be the one that carries every item available from kohlrabi to cactus leaves, then it is important that you are consistent with these items. Keep in mind that the amount of ordering and inventory time taken with these products, coupled with the retail space that they use, may not make sense for your particular produce section. If you have a very large space with plenty of room for as many products as you like, then by all means have as diverse and as experimental produce section as you like.

If space is an issue then you can still have an amazing variety of product - you just have to be smarter about how you approach your product mix. As an example, rather than having 6 different varieties of hot peppers, you have two. Rather than having 12 different apple varieties, you have eight. You are still providing your shoppers with a great selection of produce, but also allowing enough retail space to make it both easy for your customers to recognize and shop for the product as well as easier for your crew to merchandise and restock the shelves.

Recognizing the culture of your community is important. If you live in area, for example, with a population that tends to consume large amounts of napa cabbage and bok choy, then you may have a much larger display of these items than perhaps other stores might need. You may also typically carry some specialty items that may never sell well in other stores. Watch your customers, listen to them and pay attention to what they buy. They will always be your best source and guidance for whether or not to add a specific new product to your mix.

Ordering & Buying
The most effective strategy for effective ordering is to have a system. Avoid falling into the pattern of placing your orders just before the end of your shift - feeling hurried and rushed to get it done. Taking ample time and having an inventory and ordering system in place is the key. The two biggest pitfalls in ordering are over-ordering and under-ordering on specific items. It’s imperative that you have the balance - always having available product without having so much on hand that you suffer loss. Refer to order histories and records, register tapes and any ordering records that can help you to order accurately. Know what is actually selling. If you are ordering 4 cases of radicchio a week, but the register tapes show that only 2 cases are actually selling (even though 4 cases are disappearing each week), then ordering 4 cases is not the best strategy.

The goal should always be to never run out of any item. If you know that your delivery truck always arrives with your order at 9:30 am, the tendency is to order enough product to get you through the morning. This strategy can easily backfire and you end up with holes in your produce display and missing product for your shoppers. Always order past the time frame from when your product is due to arrive. In the above example you should be thinking therefore, to have enough product on hand to make it through the entire day. This will not leave you with any shrink but will ensure that you have enough product to service your customers in case the truck arrives late or a bit more product sold the day before than was expected. In the long run under-ordering can cost you more than over ordering. Not that either is good, but if you over-order you tend to lose product; if you under-order you tend to eventually lose customers. Balance is the key, and having systems and taking your time with the ordering process will ensure success.