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    7 Quick-Fix Tips to Enhance Food Merchandising in the Foodservice Area

    Turn your c-store into food paradise by following these simple merchandising techniques.

    By Diane Chiasson, Chiasson Consultants Inc.

    Food merchandising is an oft-overlooked component of foodservice and grocery operations, especially with c-stores, which are often regarded as a quick place to stop for gas, milk and bread, or a pack of cigarettes. But food merchandising can be a simple and cost-effective way to enhance the look of your store, create a more pleasant shopping experience for customers, and most importantly, boost sales by visually allowing customers to see things they may not have noticed before.

    So turn your c-store into something more than just a "convenient" place to stop to pick up necessary provisions. Turn your c-store into food paradise! By following my simple merchandising techniques, you can bring your operation to life. And in doing so, you can also bring in more business!

    But before we begin, you must first put yourself in your customers' shoes to get a better understanding of what you are currently doing, and how to improve on it. Go outside and take a good, long look at what you see, and ask yourself the following questions:

    -- What does my storefront display tell me about my place?
    -- Is the entrance inviting?
    -- Are my windows clean?
    -- Do my signs tell me exactly what I'm going to find inside?
    -- Do I smell something good?
    -- Do I want to come in and stay?
    -- Is my place child-friendly?
    -- Do I leave a favorable and lasting impression?

    To determine where your store may be missing out on opportunities to sell your food products, take a look at what your customers see when they enter your store. Shoppers tend to stay to their right-hand side when they enter a store, and continue walking along the perimeter to do much of their buying.

    You should bring your fresh products right up front to the customer, and make sure these products are of the highest quality, well presented and delivered with excellent customer service.

    Think those ideas are easy enough to handle? Here are a few more quick and easy tips you can use, and watch your sales multiply immediately!

    1. Don't cram your shelves

    The first rule of thumb of food merchandising is to treat every item with the utmost care, be it a sandwich, a pastry, a bag of chips or a doughnut. Do not pile, stack or cram your products onto a shelf. Not only is this visually unappealing, but you are most likely damaging your products as well. Make sure your shelves and display cases are well-stocked, all the labels are facing the same direction and colors are organized so that same-colored products are never side by side.

    2. Feature new or special products on a weekly basis

    Use colorful point-of-purchase materials such as posters, brochures, pamphlets, shelf talkers, bags and recipe ideas to dress up your walls and shelves. Take advantage of free supplier and association merchandising programs that offer promotions such as door prizes and in-store drawings, etc., to focus on certain food products you would like to sell. Change it once a week.

    3. Display your food to sell it

    Wherever space is available, display abundant, fresh, vibrant and colorful ingredients to create excitement. Vary the height and depth of your displays by using innovative and relevant risers, boxes and pedestals. Make your products highly visible from every possible angle. When creating your displays, use products that have a wide range of colors, contrasts and textures. The need for a fresh appearance is key, as "fresh" and "clean" are words that are synonymous with good eating. Change your displays regularly.

    You should build your food displays so customers can see them from all angles of your facility. Use nothing but the freshest ingredients and colorful food items to catch their attention. Display food items using uniquely shaped plates and dishes with different textures. Use terra cotta and other environmentally conscious colors, and incorporate natural wood and bamboo to create a more modern, clean and sleek image.

    Take for example the work my company did for Country Style Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. The addition of a simple, thick, wooden cutting board placed inside a standard glass display unit for sandwiches emphasized to customers the sandwiches had just been freshly made. Without the board the sandwiches appeared stark, and left customers wondering if they had been there for days, since a glass and steel display unit tends to evoke a sense of coldness and emptiness. The wooden board added warmth and life.

    4. Cross-merchandise to boost sales

    Cross-merchandising products is an excellent opportunity to upsell by placing the right foods together. Soups, sandwiches and potato chips should be placed in the same area, while coffee and tea should be served right next to desserts. Place bananas next to cereal, or fresh fruits next to yogurt. Place bacon next to eggs and bread. You want to encourage your customers to buy items that would help them create an entire meal, as opposed to just one or two of the things on their list.

    5. Use proper signage

    All signage should be consistent in size, layout and typeface, and should complement your store's image and brand. Use signs to give your customers the information they want to know, but might be too shy or busy to ask. List the ingredients you use, or perhaps the unique way in which it was made. Always make sure every item is priced appropriately so there are no surprises when your customer is ready to pay.

    6. Offer in-store sampling

    Offer free samples! I cannot stress how beneficial sampling can be for your store. Giving customers a chance to taste your products and opportunities to ask questions is the best way to realize a sale. Sampling also gives your staff an opportunity to educate customers. It is probably the best merchandising tool a store has available.

    7. Stimulate the appetite with good lighting

    People are very sensitive to the color and appearance of food and their surroundings. Use a combination of natural light and different types of lighting like spotlights to direct your customers' eyes towards certain food areas and to spotlight signature items, as well as make the colors come out. For example, the use of full spectrum lighting makes the color of fruits and vegetables much more vibrant.

    Other columns by Diane Chiasson:

    Six Steps to Creating an Effective Menu That Sells

    Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for more than 25 years. She provides innovative food and retail merchandising programs, interior design, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at (416) 926-1338, toll-free at (888) 926-6655; e-mail her at [email protected] or visit www.chiassonconsultants.com

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