Conveying that your store’s freshly prepared foods are indeed fresh and ready to be enjoyed is a priority no retailer can afford to ignore. For the customers, looking down at the display cases across your perimeter is literally like window shopping, and the right displays can encourage positive reactions and impulse buys.

“How a department manager sets the stage, or in this situation, the display case, provides an opportunity to engage shoppers with a big ‘Wow!’” says Marjorie Proctor, marketing and design specialist for Hillphoenix, which designs and manufactures refrigerated food displays. “Eighty-five percent of the information we receive through our senses is visual, and the interior of a display case is the canvas to peak consumer interest and get them to slow down and shop. Mediocrity does not compel people to buy.”

So when it comes to promoting the freshness and delectability of your foods, your staff should always be encouraged to get creative and make them shine for the customers. There are a few ground rules, however, that time and experience have proven to be the foundation of a good presentation.  

“The secret to successful merchandising is designing and implementing that wow factor,” Proctor says. “Grab your shopper’s attention and engage them with a positive vibe. There is opportunity to add interest to entice shoppers to want to buy while creating an emotional experience with the five senses. Invite shoppers to take in the sights and smells, as well as encourage them to pick up products, sample, and ask questions.”  

Using those senses, one should also try to convey a theme in their displays with their decor, a theme that tells a story of it’s own, she says. You can find inspiration almost anywhere when it comes to props and signage (and there’s always Pinterest), but “the star of any display case is the food and the products being merchandised,” she says. “The wall finishes, flooring, lighting, and display cases are simply a supporting role to help set the stage for the products you are selling.”

According to The Houston Chronicle, shoppers’ eyes are drawn to fresh produce when green items are altered in their display with other, brightly-colored foods, such as cucumbers and lemons, or tomatoes and green peppers. Brightly-colored fabrics are also good when setting up display shelves, it says, which are best when made of glass. Black backgrounds are better than white ones for bakery displays, as it provides a better contrast for highlighting breads and rolls, and staggered shelves will allow customers to see more food than regular ones, conveying a sense of bounty.  A sense of bounty is important, too — no one wants to buy the last banana in a display case,  because everyone assumes it wasn’t good enough for the shoppers proceeding them.

When setting up your display case, Proctor says it helps to identify a focal point around the products inside, something that will make a shopper stop in their tracks. Setting different products on different levels throughout the case will make them more appealing as well, she says, and when it comes to props, don’t get too overzealous — they should complement the food, but not distract from it.

“Think neutral colors when it comes to props, and let the food provide the color,” Proctor says. “Captivate shoppers with items or props within a display to create a focal point that can’t be ignored. Your imagination is your limit to successful merchandising. Cross-merchandising is also in your favor to increase your customer’s basket count. You can pair products together, and through signage, make suggestions on other items to encourage customers to buy both. The key is to put products together to encourage people to try something new.”

Lighting and packaging are also an important consideration, she says, as well as the coloring of the area around the display case, such as the paint on the walls and the signage nearby.

“Packaging and labeling should also look pleasing under the lighting you’re working with,” she says. “If you’re not sure, test packaging samples in your display cases to ensure that what you’re planning on using doesn’t create a glare that distracts from the product inside. Packaging should help entice shoppers to purchase a product and keep the focus on the food.”

And of course, making sure you employ people who really enjoy the creativity of setting up your displays is probably the most critical point of all, she says. People who enjoy what they’re doing will find inspiration anywhere they can, and are more likely to come up with those unique displays that really grab shoppers’ attention.

“Before products go into displays, there are many questions that need to be answered and parameters that need to be set,” Proctor says. “However, the No. 1 strategy is for merchandisers to create a culinary masterpiece, draw shoppers’ attention, and peak their interest. Keep up with industry publications, and Pinterest — what a blessing! Pinterest empowers us to be able to see food retail stores all over the world at our fingertips. And lastly, be a risk taker! Inspiration is all around you. ”