How to Prepare Fresh Departments for Winter Holidays

Scott Schuette
Former VP of Produce and Floral, Fresh Thyme Market
Scott Schuette
Former VP of Produce and Floral, Fresh Thyme Market

The winter holiday season is all about great food, friends, and family. It's the time of year when retail grocery stores are extremely busy selling an increased amount of fresh ingredients to hungry customers ready to make home-cooked meals. 

During key events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, fresh perishable product movement can easily double⁠—and even triple. Most customers purchase their perishable ingredients a day or two before the holiday event for maximum freshness, making life in retail fresh departments very challenging. 

Want to get ahead of the holiday rush? Here are three important holiday planning areas you should be focusing on during the weeks prior to a big shopping event.

Labor Schedule Strategy and Planning

  • Create holiday schedules based on prior-year hourly sales history, current year sales trends, and current labor shortages that need coverage
  • Schedule more employees during the busiest days of the holiday week, typically the day before each holiday
  • Reduce the number of people scheduled immediately following the holiday
  • Staff up on days with big holiday deliveries scheduled to avoid mishandling and improper storage of your must-have holiday foods

Merchandising Game Plan

  • Plan your merchandising schematic early to ensure placement for key holiday items
  • Keep your stores top-of-mind by marketing and merchandising holiday items to customers starting about four weeks before holidays begin
  • Leverage cross-merchandising to build incremental sales during the holiday season (like placing cream of mushroom soup with fresh green beans)

Forecasting and Ordering Plan

  • Review your store’s holiday delivery schedules with management and receiving teams to ensure everyone knows when to expect big or important deliveries
  • Dive into last year’s historical movement data and this year’s sales trends to help determine how much to order (Afresh helps with this tremendously)
  • Order longer-lasting items like non-perishables and department supplies early so you don’t have to worry about them later
  • Remember to order important secondary and tertiary holiday products like value-added, specialty, and trending items
  • Review all recap notes and movement reports from last year to provide additional ordering and preparation guidance

Multiple winter holiday events occur within less than two months and that means store teams need to keep perishable departments full and fresh all season long. This is a critical time of year for the perimeter, so flawless execution and outstanding customer service in perishable departments is a must. Creating and executing a strong holiday plan will result in customer loyalty that keeps hungry folks coming back for more throughout the year and next time a holiday comes around!

Want to take holiday ordering from manual to masterful? You need a Fresh Operating System.

Scott Schuette is a retail veteran of more than 36 years and was most recently the vice president of produce and floral for Fresh Thyme Market. He has been named Produce Retailer of the Year, Specialty Food Retailer of the Year, and Retail Deli of the Year over the course of his decades of service to the fresh perishable industry.