The quality of the fresh produce is often the top reason consumers cite for choosing one grocery store over another. Retailers can capitalize on that by making sure the look, feel and useability of their produce departments stand out as much as the fruits and vegetables sold there.

When retailers set out to create a new produce department of revamp an existing one, they should remember that it’s crucial to create a sense of freshness, seasonality and convenience for customers, said Chris Schotsman, vice president of sales and marketing for Cayuga, Ontario-based Cayuga Displays.

That includes flexible merchandising displays for seasonal and local produce items and using fruits and vegetables to create a mass display without overstocking product. Another must: making it easy for shoppers to move through the department while doing their shopping, but at the same time making it interesting.

Lighting is also a critical factor in produce, Schotsman said — specifically, “plenty of lighting, directed at the product, and at the right ‘color’ to enhance all the produce colors.”

Some design concerns are perennial, others change over time. Some of the trends Cayuga Displays is currently tracking include:

  • An emphasis on floor refrigeration switching from long runs of tables to more use of pods;
  • Cross merchandising/solution areas (e.g. caprese salad station);
  • Growth of produce “snacks”, farm market décor, multiple display heights, a mix of mass and smaller displays (e.g. potato displays: mass bagged displays on bottom with displays of loose / specialty potatoes above);
  • The development of flexible mobile cases that are able to keep temperatures at both Critical Control (Below 40 degrees F) and moderate temperatures, a flexibility that lends itself to innovative display solutions; and  
  • The ability to configure PODS of items together with good customer access.


Cayuga Displays was one of the first manufacturers to introduce Euro-Slant back tables in the mid to late 80's, and ever since, the company has developed working relationships with produce professionals, design consultants, store engineers and store owners to provide continued innovations in so many aspects of produce merchandising, including smaller footprint cases for today's smaller square-foot stores in urban areas.

“With our background in producing non-refrigerated tables, bins and shelves for produce we’re able to develop a cohesive look in a produce department, even when refrigerated cases are included in the design,” Schotsman said. “We can finish the displays to match, all produced and managed by Cayuga for consistent service and quality.”

Some of the company’s most popular products for produce departments include its line of 3x3 and 4x4 mobile refrigerated “fresh go” bins; refrigerated MRO self-contained cases; non-refrigerated 3x3 market bins, produce dry tables with casters, produce dry tables with shelving for additional merchandising below the tables; and the ability to provide multiple types of finishes for produce cases.

Cayuga’s mobile refrigerated FRESH GO BINs and MRO Cases are popular because they’re flexible, adaptable for a variety of product, they perform well and they can be “trimmed out” to match the non-refrigerated displays, Schotsman said.

“Some of our non-refrigerated table designs with multiple layers of vertical merchandising are popular for the smaller footprint stores; a growing trend,” he added. “Since we do dry tables, refrigerated cases, refrigerated self-contained cases for produce and other perimeter perishable departments, our customers love the consistency and continuity of how the departments tie in together with a consistent image that puts the focus on the products that are being offered to customers.”

It's crucial, Schotsman said, to understand the business from the customer’s point of view. What are the pain point they’re dealing with? How does merchandising work in practice? How can a supplier help elevate their sales? How can they help reduce shrink and set up and maintain equipment with minimal friction so they can focus on what’s most important?


Working the angles

The innovative shelving system of the Fresh-Fit Super Slant Produce System from Rockford, Ill.-based Siffron provides an attractive and organized "wall of produce" presentation, according to the company.

“The unique angled design promotes first-in first-out rotation to ensure produce remains fresh and easily accessible, vertical presentation enables shelves to appear full using less produce —helping to reduce shrink from overstocking —and integrated shelf perforations and open pattern wire front fence and dividers allow for maximum drainage and air flow.”

The Fresh-Fit Super Slant Produce System protects and showcases a variety of healthy foods while creating a convenient and easily-accessible display for your customers, according to Siffron. The system ensures that produce remains fresh and easily accessible while maximizing the visual impact using minimal space.


Produce department design and merchandising musts from DGS Retail

  • Simple displays are often the best. Use natural materials like wooden displays and fixtures to display food and produce.
  • Create the illusion of huge quantities of produce by displaying produce in thin layer waterfall or cascading food displays. This implies to customers that you sell huge quantities and it also protects the produce from bruising by not stacking it too deep.
  • Use food risers and display stands to help create the “mountain” of produce look. Displays will look full when they are actually half empty. This process is often called “dummy up” a display.
  • Ideally you’ll create produce-merchandising displays that appear full but are really not. These types of dummied up food displays are easier to work with, and look fresh. They also help to maximize sales and to decrease shrink.
  • Add professional signage that informs the shopper as to the nutritional value of the produce and maybe tips on how to prepare it in meals. Chalkboard signs add to the fresh farmer’s market impression.
  • Use tabletop, countertop and clip on signs for nesting table, wicker basket or wooden crate displays.


Chicago-based DGS Retail provides products and design services for grocery stores and other retail customers.