Consistency at Retail does not happen by accident but is driven by, you guessed it, the retailer. As far as the fresh produce department is concerned, retailers are looking for consistency of supply, size/grade, eating quality, appearance, cost and brand. Anyone interested in a long term and profitable relationship with a retailer needs to understand how the retailer views these factors.
There are two aspects to supplying goods to the next point in any supply chain. The first aspect revolves around the product, the second one concerns itself with the process of moving the product between seller and, including transport, documentation, regularity, punctuality, appearance and perception.
Having the right product product at the right time and being able to get it to distribution centre or store is a great start and generates a degree of retailer tolerance if the process aspects do not run as smoothly initially as both parties had anticipated. In the longterm though, the retailer prefers to deal with a supplier who has very good product AND very good processes in preference to a supplier with excellent product and lousy management systems.
Retailers have certain size/grade expectations. These could be driven by consumer preferences observed as customers pick through a tomato display, for example, or relate to a marketing campaign such as 'lunch box size apples', or can be mechanical in nature in terms of what size of lettuce fits physically best on the shelf. Once stipulated, retailers typically have limited tolerance for any deviation from the preferred norm.
Consumers typically do not buy produce for display purposes but for consumption. If something does not taste good, we complain. And we change shopping habits. Retailers do not like complaints or customers who only shop the store's centre aisles. No enduring fresh produce supply relationship can be built on inconsistent eating quality.
As they are usually not allowed to sample fruits and vegetables they are about to buy, consumers shop with their eyes and their memory. 'I know what a peach looks like and I can tell a firm peach from a ripe peach because the colour intensity will be different.' Consumers also know how to spot elongated kiwifruit, bananas without a decent curverture, onions with decaying skins and potatoes with surface rots. It DOES matter how the crop presents and variations from an agreed Standard does not fit into a retailer's Consistency model, whatever the reason.
Retailers love to develop a good plan and then let the plan execute itself. That approach works well in the centre aisles of a store but not in the fresh departments, let alone produce because the goods are perishable and can't be stored for long, and the commodity nature of the product causes price fluctuations. Grocers are forever trying to achieve cost price Consistency at Retail as it would make life a lot easier.
Brands have been prevalent for decades in produce departments. Think Chiquita, think Sunkist, think Dole. Produce brands behaving like other FMCG brands is a different story altogether and a more recent phenomenon which I will discuss elsewhere. Brand presence does help to communicate and promote Consistency at Retail but the vexing questions for retailers today is - whose brands?
Retailers do consider Consistency to be a 'desirable state' and are on a permanent mission to achieve it.