CHICAGO – Today’s produce consumers want to have experiences when they visit their local brick-and-mortar grocery store. Actively engaging all five senses can play a huge role in delivering them.

That was the message of a  June 11 workshop at the United Fresh Produce Association’s annual convention, “Reacting to Trends: The In Store Consumer Experience.”

Take lighting, which is often an afterthought, said Kim Camp, manager of marketing communications and learning center programs for Hillphoenix.

“Many retailers don’t think about how much lighting can affect a produce department,” Camp said. “Fruits and vegetables are so colorful, a feast for the eyes, and spot lighting on a display can really make those colors pop.”

Another piece of good advice is to replace fluorescent lighting systems, she said. That can help create a “more inviting, welcoming, warm experience that makes people want to shop.”

When it comes to merchandising, use big merchandisers consumers can walk all the way around to spotlight big movers or new and interesting products, Camp said. And think of replacing standard-issue shelves in those merchandisers with curved shelving, which adds dimension, drawing the eyes of consumers.

Speaking of drawing the eyes, it’s generally a good idea to keep merchandisers at a similar level to preserve sight lines, said another speaker in the workshop, Kevin Sprague, a designer in Hillphoenix’s Design Center.

That said, exceptions to the rule can be a great idea. Think, for example, of “going vertical” – hanging bunches of bananas, for instance, in those sight lines. It provides visual “texture” to the department, he said, and it has a practical effect: everyone who walks in the department instantly knows exactly where the bananas are.

Eighty-four percent of shoppers love seeing local produce at their local retailer, Camp said. So if you sell local, put up big signs with a photo of the grower and his or her name, and make sure consumers know which fruit or vegetable in which bin was grown by them.

Sound is also a great way to steer customers into the fresh produce department and to hold their interest once they’re there, Camp said. If you put in a juicing department, the sound of the juicers alone might be enough to spur consumers to give the product a try. Put it at the front of the department to make sure that sound is heard, she said.

Building a tropical fruit display? Pipe in some Caribbean music to get consumers in the mood to buy.

Stocking prickly pears and other produce items with interesting feels to them – and drawing attention to the fact – is a way to get consumers interested via another sense, touch, Camp recommends.

Also in the category of “feel” is how comfortable shoppers are when they’re walking through the department. Consider, Camp said, keeping some produce behind glass doors.

Obviously it’s good for the fruits and vegetables, maintaining their temperature at a more consistent level and thus extending shelf life. But it also keeps that cold away from consumers, some of whom may enjoy walking through the department more if they’re not getting cold doing so.

Of course, when it comes to the senses and fresh produce, you can’t forget taste and smell. Camp said she was amazed when she first found out how few produce departments did sampling and demos. Install cooking stations and educate consumers on easy ways to prepare the fruits and vegetables they buy.