Grocery store produce department design begins with appealing finishes and attractive fixtures—but it doesn’t end there. As more consumers embrace plant-based diets, the produce department continues its reign as the star of the grocery shopping experience and a powerful driver of customer loyalty.
The litmus test of any grocery store is fresh and appealing produce. And while it’s critical to ensure you’re not displaying tired tomatoes, bruised bananas, or sad scallions, great stores take it to another level, using every element of their produce section design to tell a story about their brand.
1. Offer food preparation ideas through produce department displays.
Shoppers who want to incorporate more produce in their diets need ideas for how to prepare less familiar vegetables and fresh fruits. Supermarkets can use produce displays to educate and inform. Instead of simply grouping types of produce together (e.g., all the squash, all the tomatoes) create focused “collections”.
Just as a fashion retailer brings together staple pieces and accessories to encourage additional sales, combine produce categories to invite shoppers to consider new recipes or preparations. A salad “collection” might include carrots, tomatoes, red peppers, and avocado, displayed together in an eye-catching design, such as an oversized “salad bowl” atop a round table, crowned with a display of salad dressings and packages of fresh-baked croutons from your bakery department. Stories can be as simple as a “tropical” theme that brings together pineapples, coconuts, mangoe, papayas, and bananas.
Curating products from different departments is a simple, visual way to educate and inspire shoppers. Merchandise pasta and premium olive oil with fresh basil, garlic, and vine-ripe tomatoes. Carry through the theme with “recipe of the week” cards that shoppers can take with them. Even within a refrigerated case, feature displays can create visual interest.
2. Use color to create eye-catching designs.
There are three key ways to use color for impact. The first is monochromatic color harmonies, which occur when you group items of similar hue together. Clustering items of the same basic color creates a pleasing and attractive visual effect. For example, you can combine displays of radishes, tomatoes, and red bell peppers for a monochromatic red color scheme.
Analogous harmonies comprise colors that are neighbors on the color wheel, such as red, orange, and yellow. Build an analogous color harmony by displaying, in succession, yellow bell peppers, orange bell peppers, red bell peppers, tomatoes, and radishes. A beautiful “ombre” effect can make your produce department Instagram-worthy.
Complementary color harmonies are created when you juxtapose colors that are opposites or near-opposites on the color wheel. This type of harmony produces a lively energy because opposite colors optically intensify one another. Try a display of yellow bell peppers next to purple eggplant, blueberries next to bright orange kumquats, and strawberries next to limes.
Create eye-catching color patterns. Varying the amount of each color in your “composition” also has an effect on its impact–you don’t have to stick with half-and-half. While square and rectangles are the traditional geometric pattern in stores, change things up with spirals of contrasting color. A summer fruit display might include yellow peaches and plums arranged in concentric circles. (Don’t make things feel too precious to touch; merchandise fruit “outside” the design as well.)
Black fixtures will make produce colors appear more intense. Make sure they’re wiped down frequently to prevent any appearance of dust.
3. Tell the story. Literally!
Wine buyers have known for years that shelf talkers can boost sales. If you work with local purveyors, use signage that spotlights your farmer/suppliers, a technique that’s been used by indy grocers and Whole Foods Markets alike.
What’s unique and special about the purveyor? Try a restaurant-style chalkboard featuring the day’s star produce. Which stone fruit is juicy and ripe today? Showcase it to let shoppers know. (Someone looking for fruit to eat in the next day or two will be grateful.) How should customers store specific fruits and veggies for maximum freshness? Most consumers don’t know. Offer tips to enhance their produce shopping, storage, and consumption experience.
At Elroy’s Fine Foods in Monterey, California, produce buyer Jamie Collins is a local farmer herself; there’s an oversized, hand-drawn portrait of her on the wall. Collins has innovated an exclusive distribution system in which custom pallets of beautiful produce are received from neighboring farmers’ markets. That’s a story worth sharing with customers.
The King Retail Systems design for Fresh St. Market in Vancouver features three-dimensional, sculptural signage with colorful mid-century flair. A line of green wheelbarrows suspended from the ceiling act as frames for freestanding letters that spell out, “Welcome to our GARDEN in the city.” The produce department design tells a vivid, upbeat “freshness” story and delivers an immersive shopping adventure.
4. Upgrade lighting for a natural look.
Another way to convey the “fresh” story is to ensure that your lighting is as close as possible to natural daylight. Full-spectrum lighting mimics the wavelength of sunlight and can be the difference between product displays “popping”, fading into the background–or worse, looking tired and unappealing.
Agricultural lighting also slows deterioration, helping to preserve produce a bit longer. When produce looks better and fresher, there is substantially less waste–in fact, the right lighting can virtually pay for itself in food waste reduction.
5. Make well-stocked, appealing displays everyone’s mission.
Prevent produce from looking picked-over by patrolling your department continuously. Encourage all staff members to restore and refill displays as items are removed, especially after peak shopping periods. Customers notice when store employees tend to the produce–sending another subtle signal of freshness.
Whole Foods stores are known for eye-level massing of produce, which creates great visual impact. A great way to give that same sense of “wow” are tiered risers and waterfall displays, which elevate produce closer to eye level. By creating the feeling of a “wall” of product, a tiered riser can create the feeling of large, abundant displays with relatively small amounts or product.
6. Set the mood with the right fixtures.
The enormous popularity of farmer’s markets in the United States has thrown down the gauntlet for grocers. How can your store tell its own compelling, “fresh, local” story? One way is to choose fixtures and produce display bins with an earthier, more organic appeal.
Give shoppers a sense of discovery and exploration with tilted bins, European-style produce tables, and wooden carts. Racked wicker baskets, wooden risers, and chalkboard signage offer a hand-crafted feeling. Green Zebra grocers in Portland, Oregon uses natural wood finishes and original mural artwork to underscore its local, hand-picked ethos. Remember, everything doesn’t have to match—but it does have to harmonize.
Create enough space in the produce section for small-scale activations, such as produce sampling with local purveyors. Modular and rolling fixtures in the produce section can provide flexibility for special events, tastings, and cooking demonstrations. Euro tables (so named for their resemblance to European street market tables used for food displays in the 1920s) have become a popular option.
For maximum versatility, purchase tables that offer adjustable height, locking casters, and optional tilt-tops. Push the envelope: combine natural wood with a powder coating color that matches your branding. Whether your design aesthetic says, “Vintage Village Vegetable Stand” or “Museum of Modern Fruit”, the King Retail Systems design team creates fixtures that deliver memorable shopping experiences in produce sections of every size.
The inventory in produce departments is constantly changing, so flexibility in fixtures is key. Displays like nesting tables can enable merchandising plans to pivot quickly for shipments of seasonal produce.
There’s no better time to rewrite your produce story: fresh fruits and vegetables are the fastest-growing (no pun intended) food category in the grocery sector, as young consumers choose plant-based diets for themselves and their families. And with produce offering better profit margins than many other categories, a fresh new story can also yield gratifying results on the bottom line.