Would A Produce Department Survive A Reality Show Vote?

I am not a big watcher of reality television. But on the odd occasion, I do sit down and have a look. What I like is the black and whiteness of ‘the vote.’ Someone either stays…or they get voted off. There is no ambiguity; the audience has spoken!

Translating this to fresh produce, I am curious to know if most fresh produce departments would survive the audience voting process if shoppers could vote in that way.

Are Fresh Produce Departments Really Customer Focused?

I am pondering all this based on a conversation with a produce marketer the other day. He was talking about how hard it was to get a new product to market, thanks to retail disinterest. I saw the concept and from a shopper/produce marketer point of view, it made sense.

In discussing the challenge of getting new products and ideas past retail gatekeepers, I started wondering who really determines a produce department offer. And, is the current process really effective?

The more I thought about what retailers offered or didn’t offer shoppers, the more I started to wonder about the produce industry’s attitude towards consumers and how customer service focused we really are in fresh produce.

In other words, would a produce department make the cut or would it get voted off?

Lots of Fresh Produce Products Are Not Shopper Friendly

If there was a way shoppers could score the produce industry on customer service, how would we fare? My gut feeling tells me we wouldn’t score a 10 out of 10. In fact, I bet we’d score an 8 for effort, but more like a 5 for delivery.

Consider these examples…

  • The supply side of produce places value on being first in the market in order to glean high prices. It can be argued that most early season product is unripe, immature, poor tasting and shouldn’t be on the market. Customer Service Score: 0 out of 10.


  • There is a ‘salvage’ mentality that exists in fresh produce. Shoppers often see rotten, over-ripe, bruised or damaged produce left on the retail shelf. When questioned, produce managers usually reply, “Someone will buy it.” Customer Service Score: 0 out of 10.


  • I have experienced wholesalers willing to sell floury nectarines to their retail customers. When questioned, wholesalers reply, “I’ve paid for it. I’ve got to get something back.” Customer Service Score: 0 out of 10.

While I run the risk of being perceived as critical, we need to look at what products we deliver in the produce department and how we deliver them to determine our level of customer service and responsiveness.

Supermarkets Challenge the Meaning of Customer Service Focus

Most of us would be hard pressed to argue that in the western world, most businesses are becoming increasingly customer focussed. In fact, customer relationships in the broader context of business are paramount.

So why does the grocery shopping experience feel so devoid of customer service?

The grocery shopping and produce shopping experiences don’t make me feel valued as a customer. And, I spend a fortune with these companies every week!

One reason is because there are limited shopping options available. Basically, if you wanna eat, you gotta shop – and the easiest place to do that is at the supermarket. But this is on the cusp of change.

New Solutions Are Coming That Might Change the Game

Take for example Amazon expanding into groceries…and now increasing their fresh delivery tests. Amazon is a company that gets customer service. And potentially, their methodology could unleash unknown possibilities for produce companies who are innovative and want to launch new products.

For now, fresh produce is behind in customer service. It’s partly because produce is unique and is only just beginning to be recognised for its uniqueness from a management perspective and its contribution from a profit perspective. It’s not just a product that can be put on the shelf and the job is done.

We all know produce is profitable. Just think how much more profitable it could be if we earned a 10 out of 10 for customer service and went on to become ‘America’s Idol.”