Fresh perimeter departments can make or break a retailer’s success, and among those departments fresh produce has the best opportunity to build displays that engage shoppers and build basket value.

“In a way, the whole department is one big display that takes advantage of nature’s bountiful colors, shapes and aromas,” said Jan DeLyser, vice president of marketing for the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission.

Produce displays that put complementary items close to each other encourage cross purchases, and classic pairings of contrasting colors, such as avocados and tomatoes, help draw the shopper’s attention.

Displays with signage, meanwhile, can draw attention to the retailer’s support of locally grown produce, which continues to be of strong interest to consumers, DeLyser said. Highlighting seasonally available produce through displays and signage is smart, too.

In a 2020 study conducted by the California Avocado Commission, 69% of avocado shoppers said they always or frequently seek out in-season produce, and 89% believe that in-season produce is better tasting. Merchandising those in-season produce items prominently gives consumers what they seek, DeLyser said, making the shopping experience more satisfactory.

Some retailers do a great job of using signage to call out locally grown and in-season produce, but there’s room for improvement, she said.

“PLU stickers are inadequate to communicate produce origin — the available space is just too small. To capitalize on consumer demand, retailers need to use their own signage or signage provided by brands, commissions and organizations like California Grown.”

There are several factors for retailers to keep in mind when planning their fresh avocado displays: protecting the fruit, showcasing ripeness, displays and signage.

In general, DeLyser said, instore produce personnel are experts at merchandising fresh produce to show off its appetite appeal and protecting it from damage and resulting shrink. Avocados are one of the produce items that require extra care, in particular careful stacking and frequent rotation to ensure ripe avocados are featured and not stacked under firmer fruit.

For years, the commission has worked with its retail partners to ensure that ripe avocados are available for shoppers. Earlier this year it conducted a study among shoppers at several retailers in California and found that many avocado shoppers want to purchase avocados of varying ripeness levels during the same shopping trip.

“They want to buy some that will be ripe and ready right away, and some that will be ready, and not overripe, for later in the week,” DeLyser said. “This is quite different from what shoppers said decades ago, and it makes sense given how much avocado consumption has grown and how many ways consumers are integrating avocados into different dishes and meals around the clock.”

For retailers in markets where the avocado category is well developed — California, Texas and other western states, for example — it may help increase sales to merchandise avocados of different ripeness levels separately.

As with most produce items, displaying avocados near complementary produce and near items with contrasting colors is helpful, DeLyser said. Additional displays of avocados work exceptionally well, especially during periods of high consumption, such as during California avocado season in the spring and summer, holidays and the Super Bowl.

The California Avocado Commission creates customized marketing programs for retailers that can include display bins, display contests, sales contests and custom signage.

Because avocado sales peak in summertime when California avocados are available, some retailers use the group’s display bins around the American summer holidays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and others bring them in as soon as they transition to the California origin and keep them up all season long.

Gelson’s in Southern California and Mollie Stones in Northern California are among the retailers that do a great job building displays, DeLyser said.


Many locations, many opportunities

The Orlando-based National Mango Board’s retail strategy is to get mangos out of the “exotic” category and position them as a mainstream fruit, said Manuel Michel, the board’s executive director.

“We talk to our retailer partners about adjusting their merchandising sets to give mangos a more visible and consistent position in the produce department,” he said. “The consumer cannot purchase a mango if they cannot find them.”

Innovative placement throughout the perimeter of the store is a successful best practice that many retailers activate, said Tammy Wiard, the board’s senior retail program manager. That’s because mangos can be featured not only in produce but as an ingredient in the bakery, deli, meat and seafood sections.

Secondary displays are an excellent way to showcase mangos inside or outside of the produce department, Wiard said. The National Mango Board offers seasonal display bins at no charge to retailers, and the growth of mango consumption warrants incremental display space.

“It’s simple: bigger displays give the retailer the opportunity to move more mangos, increasing the bottom line,” she said.

Fresh-cut displays are also a way to feature mangos in a different way to the consumers. Retailers can utilize refrigerated end caps to feature fresh-cut, and some stores have mobile refrigerated displays that can be moved around the store, even to the checkout area.

Cross-marketing is also an important consideration when building produce displays, especially with a fruit as versatile as mangos, Wiard said.

“We know, through internal and external insights, that there is considerable cross shopping with mangos and avocados, citrus and stone fruit. We educate and encourage our retail clients to create merch sets that place mangos adjacent to these high traffic fruit.”

 Back to basics

Sticking to the fundamentals is a good place to start when it comes to building a successful fresh produce display. A clean and neat display, for instance, “engages the customer instantly,” said Greg Dunne, produce operations manager for San Diego-based retailer Barons Market.

“It’s interactive and fun and encourages the customer to use all five senses,” he said. “They see bright, colorful displays, smell fresh fruit, pick up an avocado to check for ripeness, listen to the produce manager talk about what’s in season, and oftentimes ask the produce manager for a taste of produce.”

Also essential, he added: signage that indicates price, type, and interesting notes about where the produce came from or if it’s “first of the season.”

Barons produce department employees are constantly bringing out fresh product to make sure its displays look full and eye-catching to the customer, Dunne said.

When it comes to promotions, new or seasonal produce is always a hit. And the most important way to encourage the customer to buy is simply by talking to them about what makes a particular item special.

“Talking with our customers about what’s new and what’s in season gets them very enthusiastic about produce. They’re always asking us, ‘What do you have today?’”

Just as important as good retailer-customer relations, Dunne said, are solid retailer-supplier relationships.  

“Good communication with our vendors is important so that our buyers know exactly which labels and which products are expected to be delivered that day,” he said. “We ensure that our vendors supply us with fresh, good quality products, and then we take over building the right display for our stores. Our produce team has the ultimate creative control in display-building.” 

Good displays are important year-round, but some times of the year stand out, Dunne said. Barons produce employees love building exciting displays around the holidays, for example. For the 4th of July, Barons builds great corn and watermelon displays, and for Halloween, it’s all about the pumpkin patches. For Valentine’s Day, Barons builds displays of hand-dipped long-stem strawberries.

Sometimes, it’s a particular fruit or vegetable that stirs the team’s creative display-building juices, Dunne said.

“When we get unique items like fresh young coconut, organic heirloom tomatoes or locally grown figs, we always put that front and center in the department.”


Produce display building 101:


  • Color: Highlight not only the wide variety of colors produce offers, but find out which colors look best next to each other (avocado green next to tomato red, e.g.).
  • Education: Make sure signage gets the most important information across, for example which products are seasonal. (89% of consumers say seasonal produce is better-tasting).
  • Maintenance: Know which fruits and vegetables are susceptible to bruising when building your displays. And rotate product frequently so older product doesn’t get buried and pass its quality peak.
  • Cross-promote: many produce items go great together, and plenty can be merchandised on displays with items from outside the department.
  • Relocate: secondary displays in different areas of the department —and of the store in general —are a great way to get the most out of your promotion. Mobile display units are the perfect tool to make this happen.
  • Happy Holidays: Never forget the importance consumers place on holidays when plotting your display strategy. Corn and watermelon for the Fourth of July, pumpkins for Halloween and hand-dipped strawberries for Valentine’s Day are just a few of the many options.