Perishable products lose their quality and value over a specified time even when handled correctly throughout the supply chain. They require special handling, storage techniques and equipment to prevent damage, spoilage and contamination. This handling includes washing, rinsing, grading, storing, packaging, temperature control and daily or even hourly shelf life quality testing. Disruptions of the integrity of the cold chain can wipe out an entire season's profits.

What Are Perishable Products in Marketing?

Perishables include meats, fruits, vegetables, spices, grains, tobacco products, flowers and plants and pharmaceuticals, including over-the-counter medications, supplements and dietary aids. Certain chemicals, including those used for wildfire suppression, lose potency and become less stable over time, so they also fit the perishable category. Even the ice used to preserve the freshness and usability of goods during transport and store display qualifies as perishable.

Vaccines, blood, blood products and body organs for transplant have short windows of useful life, so they fit the definition of perishable goods, as well. Vaccines must have verifiable temperature control from the date and time of their manufacture to the time of administration or they lose effectiveness. Body organs for transplant must stay between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius or 39 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit from the time of harvest from the donor all the way through to the waiting recipient. The delivery company must provide an accurate record showing that they kept everything at the correct temperature from the beginning of the cold chain to the end. Without that record, the surgical team may have to discard the organ. The cold chain refers to keeping perishable items at the correct temperature throughout the entire supply chain, from collection or harvest onward.

Why You Need to Know Perishable Products in Marketing 

Due to the shorter shelf life of perishable products, marketing campaigns must create urgency and have a robust call to action. The window between a product's arrival at the store and its purchase must match the time of peak quality or profits will plummet, and not just for the product itself. Low-value products steal shelf space from higher-value items, creating a double whammy for your business. Better to offer a discount, coupon or rebate than to continue to hold hostage product display space.


Keep perishable food products at eye level. Use grab-and-go packaging and product placement. Display perishable items with other items usually purchased together. For example, display onions, fresh sauerkraut and buns near the hotdogs. Place potatoes, bell peppers and salad fixings near steaks or ribs.

You can extend the shelf life of edible perishables by freezing them or by including them as an ingredient in the special of the day, fully cooked. Storing pharmaceuticals at the correct temperature ensures their potency as well as shelf life. The pharmacist bears ultimate responsibility for quality control, including maintaining a record of temperature readings and adherence to proper storage techniques.


Some perishable products, such as whole blood, organs for transplant and vaccines cannot be frozen. Follow proper disposal procedures with these items.

Perishable Products in Marketing Examples  

Some perishable foodstuffs have so much appeal that they market themselves: Just-picked tangerines and peaches trucked straight from the orchard to the farmer's market; fresh-baked bread and cookies still warm from the oven and orchids or other aromatic flowers have such attractive scents that customers sometimes stop in their tracks, looking for the source of the heavenly aroma. Display these and other aromatic perishables near your checkout counters in end cap displays or waist-high, grab-and-go bins to encourage impulse purchases. Front and center table placements at farmer's markets also work well to prompt last-minute shoppers to buy perishable and seasonal items.

Other perishables, such as meats, cheeses and juices benefit from bundled sales, such as the "buy one, get two free" offer Kroger makes for pork ribs during grilling season. The aromatic oils in many spices can dry out long before their sale to customers, reducing their impact in your favorite recipes. A display of seasonal spices near the front of the store creates enough interest to balance potential loss from petty theft.

Biologicals, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals benefit from campaigns designed to build trust and credibility. Talking about how supply chain monitoring maintains product quality gives customers and patients confidence that they will receive a safe, effective treatment or nutritional support. Such promotions usually end with the phrase, "Ask your doctor if [insert product name here] is right for you."

Special Considerations When Marketing Perishable Products

Successful marketing of perishable goods begins with the farmer or fishing-boat owner, straight from the field or boat. The farmer must ensure that all crops get from the meadow to the packing house or storage facility right away. Getting the product out of the field quickly means hiring enough workers, arranging for transport vehicles and drivers, and training workers to avoid damaging produce during the harvest.

Once picked, all of the product must be cooled, cleaned, sanitized, sorted, graded, packed and inspected for maturity, quality and fitness for consumption. Cleaning all equipment before the first trucks begin unloading ensures that the packing sheds pass safety and sanitation inspections. This cleansing prevents any accidental contamination.

Packinghouse workers separate the damaged portion of the crop from the acceptable, sellable produce. Unfit produce must undergo the required disposal and destruction procedures to ensure that it stays out of the food supply chain. Once packed, all foodstuffs must be kept at the correct temperature to prevent spoilage while allowing continued ripening if needed. Bananas and tomatoes, for example, both require specific conditions to keep them at the optimum level of ripeness.

Fishers must separate the targeted species from out-of-season or undersized fish and shellfish. Dead, diseased fish must be disposed of correctly. Fishing-boat employees must release bycatch alive. Bycatch includes animals such as dolphins, turtles or any endangered species, as well as all of the undersized and out-of-season fish brought aboard. All viable fish of the appropriate size and species must be sorted and iced to ensure quality. The catch must arrive ashore alive or entirely frozen to the optimum temperature, or it will be seized and destroyed.

Creating Demand for Perishables

In-store product demonstrations, weekly specials, coupon offers and multiple-item purchase offers all increase sales, and not just for the product that you have chosen to promote. If you promote chicken grill packs, you'll also sell paper cups and plates, napkins, charcoal, tabletop grills, lighter fluid, aluminum foil, matches, plastic tablecloths, condiments, insect repellants, holiday patio lights, soft drinks, beer, liquor and wine. Promote strawberries, and you also sell sponge cake, whipped topping and candied cherries. Apple promotions will increase sales of pie crusts, kitchen timers, caramels, crushed nuts, skewers, colored cellophane bags, ribbon and gift tags.

Community events create the most demand due to their greater reach. Sporting events, conventions, home and garden shows and bridal fairs all increase sales of suitable perishables. Join any tailgate party and you will see everything from chili sauce to red hots to pulled pork, along with copious amounts of beer, wine and soft drinks. Conventions increase sales at nearby restaurants and fast-food joints, even if the conference itself provides meals. Bridal shows push cake and pastry samples, finger foods and entree samples during tastings. Garden shows drive sales of lawn chemicals, fertilizers, seeds and seedlings. Community activities also draw tourist dollars, boosting the local economy through event tickets, hotel costs, parking fees and memorabilia sales.

Chili cookoffs promote beef, Hatch chilies, garlic, onions, beans, chicken and sausage. Strawberry festivals sell the berries as well as toppings, including real whipped cream. Hold a crawfish boil or clambake to promote the shellfish, and you will also sell corn on the cob, butter and red potatoes.

Single-ingredient restaurant promotions also drive perishable commodity sales. Denny's restaurant once ran a very successful campaign in Arizona, using locally sourced pepper bacon. One of the more unusual offerings of that campaign included bacon bits in vanilla ice cream. The elusive naked chicken chalupa and the prickly pear Mountain Dew freeze helped Taco Bell test two new products. The McDonald's chain created their now-seasonal McRib sandwich back in 1981 to promote pork sales when the stunning success of chicken McNuggets led to a shortage of chicken due to supply chain challenges.

Alternative Distribution Methods for Perishable Goods

Reaching isolated areas with medical supplies in the wake of a disaster became faster and a little safer when the Australian startup, Flirty, made the first FAA-approved drone delivery in Virginia in 2015. In July 2016, Flirty partnered with 7-11 stores to deliver hot and cold food items and over-the-counter medications. Between July and December of that year, 7-11 reached by drone 77 of its customers in Nevada. Amazon followed with its first drone delivery in December 2016.

These earliest drone deliveries faced low-weight payload limitations. Bell Helicopters has addressed these weight restrictions by building working prototypes that can transport cargo weighing between 10 and 200 pounds, with delivery ranges between 50 and 300 miles. Boeing's contribution to the race for freight- and passenger-carrying drones uses vertical take-off and landing technology, or VTOL, and can carry 500 pounds of supplies or merchandise.

This technology could be used in the upcoming hurricane season to quickly deliver perishable food, medications and even generators to affected areas. These larger-payload drones have the potential to save thousands of lives from preventable illness, home medical equipment failures and waterborne infections.

American startup, Zipline, already delivers blood and vaccines to people in Rwanda. Thanks to drone delivery, the three-hour wait between the nearest blood donation center and the hospital has dropped to just 10 minutes. Two-year-old malaria patient Ghislane Ihimbazwe became the first person ever to be revived from a code blue condition with a drone-supplied blood transfusion on December 21, 2016.

Palo Alto, California, joins nearly 150 other cities awaiting approval for drone-assisted blood deliveries. When emergencies arise requiring more blood than the Stanford Blood Center has on hand, the couriers they rely upon can sometimes take 30 to 60 minutes or more to reach the hospital. Drones cut that time to 10 minutes since they fly over traffic jams and obstacles with ease.

Waste Prevention Tools for Perishable Goods

Forty percent of all foodstuffs in the United States gets thrown away, usually because it looks unattractive or has passed the recommended sell-by or best-if-used-before date. These dates refer to an edible product's peak quality, rather than whether or not you can safely consume the food. Food stored between 40 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit creates the most urgent safety hazard. That can of peas that escaped the grocery bag to sit in your hot car for three days should go straight to the trash. So should the German potato salad and deviled eggs that adorned the side-dish table at Sunday's church social for four hours. The canned artichoke hearts your aunt Carol palmed off on you because she couldn't resist the 10 for $10 sale, however, should be just fine for the next five to 15 years.

Research performed on behalf of the United States military and published in 2012 in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that some expired medications still worked as stated on the packaging. As a result, the U.S. military and many emergency preparedness agencies at the local, state and federal levels now submit stored and stockpiled drugs and medications for periodic quality testing. If they pass, the drug stockpiles receive a new expiration date stamp. Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration does not recommend using any prescription drug or over-the-counter medication in your home past its expiration date, even if the package has remained unopened. However, if you have no other option during a life-threatening allergic reaction, the use of an expired EpiPen is better than doing nothing at all. Do not use expired antibiotics, insulin, oral nitroglycerin tablets, vaccines, biologicals or blood products under any circumstances, however.