Fresh – Dump or Out of stock!

Fresh produce retail is a fascinating subject.

Last evening at a wet market, I witnessed an elderly woman repeatedly fingering mangoes to decide whether to buy or not. May be she wanted to know how long the fruit shall stay good or are the mangoes ripe enough to be consumed immediately or she’ll have to wait; if yes, how long she and her family will have to wait.

While these questions are legitimate, the fresh produce retailer may not have the right answers. And this difficulty in finding the right answers is what makes fresh produce retail a fascinating subject.

The concept of ‘Fresh’ itself is enchanting. By the way – what is considered ‘Fresh’ in retail? Does a common theme or thread binds ‘Fresh’?

To a front end retailer, ‘Fresh’ is a product category whose value decrease due to quality loss which result in price reductions (impacts revenue), or even result in products being thrown or blown away (Dump & Shrink), a challenge he daily faces while trying to balance overstocks and stock-outs by attempting correct indenting as far as possible.

Retailer also knows that if product waste in a retail outlet is too low, this could signify a risk of empty shelves or his inability to offer fresh products to his customers (little sales due to stocking of stale and dying products). He also knows in heart of hearts that presence of Fresh” is a major customer footfall driver for his store – day in and day out.

While retailer’s ‘Fresh’ is a struggle balancing Inventory – Profits – Footfalls – Shrink – Revenue – FIFO – FEFO – LIFO, buyers ‘Fresh’ is a constant conflict (quite often compromise) between purchasing indented quantities of products with ever changing quality at the lowest prices.

From logistics perspective, ‘Fresh’ is ‘Perishability’, to be delivered fastest to store shelves in right environment. Product has to be quickly out of their custody (inventory) without loss and value.

‘Fresh’ connotes “Quality” to customers with all its finer nuances, contexts and equations. Period!

In such a scenario, can we help that old women find right answers, while making the work of the fresh produce purchaser, logistics operator and retailer lesser complex?

My bets are once again placed on technology led zero defect fresh produce production and shelf life modeling techniques. That is the only economical way to achieve uniform and precise products in the first place. “Quality is Free” here. Vegetopia, some will say.

Fresh produce traders in India have a saying, “all fingers are not equal” when pushing non standardized products to customers.

For situation like either innovative (but costly) machines like ripeness, color and weight specific sorter graders or plain vanilla sorting / grading by human hands comes to rescue.

Here Quality, sorry ‘Fresh’ comes at a Cost, quite often a considerable cost.

The choice is ours!