Curtain call – A few more thoughts on theater in the produce department

Curtain call – A few more thoughts on theater in the produce department

Photos courtesy Brian Dey

Greetings, produce professionals!

Creating theater in the produce department is something we spoke about earlier this year, but it’s the perfect topic to revisit heading into a high-traffic time of the year. Theater events in a produce department create fun and excitement and can make memorable impressions on your customers.

In many cases, these events are more than just awesome displays; they in and of themselves are “experiences” and add a cool atmosphere and flair in the department.

I am a big fan of produce theater because fun, consumer education and interaction, creative ideas and merchandising are at the heart of produce retail.

Although the current pandemic has changed the script a bit in how customers might shop and interact with you or your store staff, having something cool for them to look at, learn from and smile about just might make their day!

Check out a couple of recent examples I experienced regarding the effect of theatrical flair in your department and the tangible and intangible benefits that come with it.  

Got fungi?

September was National Mushroom Month, and we put together a fun event to celebrate all things mushroom! We built a big display of fabulous fungi, front and center of the department, an area where customers had to stop and look to see what all of the excitement was.


We were able to partner with our mushroom supplier to help with promotional pricing as well as offering some really cool giveaways and great mushroom information that we handed out to customers.

We brought in some live shiitake logs and displays of live lion’s mane and trumpet mushrooms for the customers to see how some of these delicious fungi are grown and talk about the growing process.


Live mushrooms on the substrate they are grown on was a complete eye opener for many. It gave them a different perspective and added another level to the display.

Overall, it was an incredibly fun and educational event that many mushroom aficionados enjoyed and will remember each time they approach the mushroom section going forward.

Although whites, crimini and portabellas carried a good portion of the sales and increases, the store also sold some of the more exotic mushrooms that it hadn’t tried before. Maitake, beech, lion’s mane and baby shiitake all made it to into carts.


The visual of the live mushrooms, plus recipe discussion at point of sale, created impulse buys and got the consumer to try something new. The store had also never carried loose mushrooms before and will now be adding these to their mushroom sections.

After the dust settled on the promotion, the store reported a 200% increase across the category over the previous week and is enjoying a 25-30% increase on a consistent basis over the previous year.

For a category like mushrooms, that is pretty awesome!

A reset is planned to expand the current set with new bins and shelving. That is one of the coolest parts of doing displays and events like these: super impactful displays reap long-term benefits and repeat purchases to grow category sales and awareness of a commodity. So simple and yet so effective!


Another cool event I was recently part of was a SugarBee apple extravaganza in Maryland, where we built eye-catching displays of this amazing apple outside in BEE-u-tiful weather!


We were also fortunate to have the SugarBee mascot fly all the way out from Chelan, Wash., (shout out to Chelan Fresh!) to be a part of the apple selling fun and festivities.

The bee was amazing, greeting every customer as they walked by, creating a really cool atmosphere and “buzz” in the store and area.


The store featured the apple and the bee on social media, and customers were taking pictures and selfies with it all day long, even playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with several customers at both locations. And as you might expect, many of these same customers bought bags of SugarBees as they entered the store.

Super fun, super cool and made a lot of customers' days.


While the bee was awesome, the superstar of the event was of course the apple. Engaging with shoppers and talking about the SugarBee’s flavor profile – plus sharing the cool story on how this variety came to BEE – was great for sales and consumer knowledge.

The store saw a 185% increase in week-over-week SugarBee sales without losing sales on the other great apple varieties gracing the departments counters.

That’s right – added sales without sacrificing movement of the whole category.


The past couple of examples are tangible, right? Apple sales grow, category profits rise, and customers walk away from a great promotion with new insight, product knowledge and a desire to come back for more fun and events at your stores. 

Another significant benefit is that events like this help strengthen relationships with your wholesalers and their vendor partners.

I would personally like to give a shout out to Mark Kreiner from Mother Earth Mushrooms and the American Mushroom Institute and to Julie DeJarnatt, Alisha Jeffries and Kevin Stennes from Chelan Fresh for working with us to help make these fantastic events a reality.

Remember, it all starts with an idea! So, produce world, what will your customers see next when the curtain rises in your department? Create theater, create opportunity, and create sales!

Brian Dey is the senior merchandiser and natural stores coordinator for Ephrata, Pa.-based wholesaler Four Seasons Produce. He’s an industry veteran with a serious passion for helping produce teams to achieve great presentation and results in their departments.

Want to see more of Brian's work? Check out all his columns here, a lineup that includes the following: