The Berry Breakdown: Why the Most Expensive Categories Require Accurate Ordering

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

Every winter without fail, consumers set resolutions to replace delicious, indulgent holiday meals with  fresher, healthier foods like berries. By the middle of January, shoppers who’ve committed to healthy eating resolutions start buying more berries. And with that, fresh produce departments soon become the bullseye on nearly every shopping list.

The Berry Breakdown: Challenges of Increased Imports

By now, customers expect fresh berries year round, so when they’re out of stock shoppers are likely to take their entire basket to another store. Keeping high-quality berries in stock late-April through mid-July is easy, as they’re plentiful across the country. But when Mother Nature’s cold winter months roll in, grocers switch to stocking shelves with berries imported from countries like Chile, Mexico, and Peru. And that can lead to challenges with quality, out-of-stocks, and replenishment.

Fresh blueberries with a white box overlaid and black text reading: U.S. Blueberry Imports January 2019: 65M pounds. June 2019: 5M pounds

As a 36-year veteran of the produce industry, I’ve dealt with imports quite a bit. Here’s what you can do to prepare:

Know What’s On the Table for Your Team

  • Rising supply chain costs. Imports naturally create additional cost for the retailer. However, the ripple effects of continuous supply chain backups have led to a low supply of materials needed to process, package, ship, and inspect items coming into the U.S. 
  • Longer transit times. Congestion at shipping docks leads to longer dwell times that cut into precious days of shelf life. Once imports are unloaded and inspected, truckers in the U.S. pick up where the ships left off. And unfortunately, the trucking industry’s existing labor shortage creates additional logjams, too.
  • Fewer days of shelf life for berries in the store. Once the berries finally arrive at the store, a host of other concerns pop up. Trucks need to be unloaded quickly, berries need to be stored correctly, and shelves must stay full so the fruit sells
Red strawberries with a white text box on top: Strawberry prices rose 10% in 2021, making the cost of wasting them more expensive, too.m

Maximize Order Potential with Accurate Ordering

So, how do you support increased consumer demand for fresh berries without jeopardizing sales and profits? Most fresh teams consider two options, both of which have big repercussions:

  • Should I intentionally over-order berries to avoid stockouts and make up for quality-related product loss? No, adding a cushion to your order may seem like a great idea in theory, but in practice it leads to additional food waste and higher costs for the grocery store.
  • Should I place conservative orders to keep the store’s overhead costs low? No, customers will take their business elsewhere when key items are out of stock. So while shorting an order does have the potential to reduce overall waste, the impact on profitability and customer loyalty can create bigger problems.

Empower Your Teams with Smarter Ordering

When it comes to the berry category, even the most experienced fresh department veterans can use some help.

Right now, most fresh department teams rely on manual calculations and guesswork to complete tasks like ordering, inventory, merchandising, and forecasting. And rather than cycling through another season of stockouts and shrink, grocery retailers would be wise to folks who keep shelves full and fresh with tech that enhances that helps them get the job done.

Stores that use the Fresh Operating System from Afresh get a massive return on investment, especially when it comes to the high-priced berry. The software leverages machine learning to build recommendations from complex data like daily changing customer demand, shifting product cost, retail price fluctuation, seasonality, merchandising strategies, and even the degree of perishability for each specific item.

As one of the biggest risk categories, the economic health and well-being of the berry category is pivotal to the financial success of each produce department. Berries that end up in the trash cut into profits and progress on sustainability goals. So during the cold winter months, keep your bottom line healthy with a key item that creates strong customer traffic patterns and builds total basket dollar size that shoppers will know they can rely on year after year.

Looking for a grocery store tech that drives results like 25% less shrink, 80% fewer stockouts, and 3% sales growth? Take a fresh-first approach!

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.