Ed Bedington
Special advisors are being used to give one retailer the edge in banana sales.
Somerfield has entered a joint initiative with fresh produce giants Fyffes and JP to improve handling and merchandising.
The two rival suppliers are providing three advisors each, all of whom will be based at Somerfield's distribution depots.
Fyffes sales director David Flynn said the company approached the retailer and suggested that money used for promotions would be better spent on the advisors.
"Each advisor will visit the stores in their region, advising staff on care of the product and the best way to merchandise." They will also be looking at stock and wastage controls in each store and liasing with Somerfield's regional manager.
Flynn said: "Bananas are Somerfield's largest single selling product, but they're also one of the most delicate and often bought on sight, so with a good display you'll increase sales."
The scheme has been running since May and Flynn said it was beginning to pay off with improved sales. But Somerfield's senior buyer for fruit Gary Beggs said at the moment it was still early days. "It's in its infancy, so it's a little too early to say how it's going, but we are seeing favourable signs.
"The numbers are improving week by week. Whether that's a general market trend or because of the advisors we're not sure yet, but we're hoping it's the latter."
Flynn added they were only working with Somerfield at the moment, but added other retailers may become interested.
"I think Somerfield has been very brave. It will take a big leap of faith from the other retailers, but they will probably wait and see what happens first."